City school first to be handed over by church authorities
A DEAL has been reached on the handover of the first Catholic primary school in the country to a different patron body.
The historic agreement centres on a 193-year-old former Christian Brothers' school in Basin Lane, near Dublin's city centre, clearing the way for the multi-denominational, Educate Together to move in.
The Department of Education and the Edmund Rice Schools Trust (ERST) have both confirmed the transfer to the Irish Independent.
It is a small, but significant step in moves to offer parents greater choice by reducing the dominance of the Catholic Church in primary education, where it controls more than 90pc of schools.
Education Minister Ruairi Quinn is waiting for a response from the Catholic bishops about arrangements for school handovers in over 20 other communities with an identified demand for choice, but slow progress is expected.
Under the deal agreed in recent days, the ERST will lease its premises, Scoil San Seamus in James Street, to the department for 10 years.
Archbishop of Dublin Dr Diarmuid Martin had previously agreed that the Christian Brothers' boys' primary school could merge with a local girls' Catholic school to facilitate Educate Together. The amalgamated, co-ed school, called St James' Primary School, opened this month.
The agreement follows months of wrangling between the two sides over the terms of the handover of the Basin Lane site, which stymied Mr Quinn's hopes of opening a new Educate Together school on the site this month.
The new Portobello Educate Together School subsequently took out a one-year lease on the former film censor's office in Harcourt Terrace, but may now switch to Basin Lane next September.
Negotiations between the department and ERST, a Christian Brother trust which owns the Scoil San Seamus building, got bogged down when ERST raised legal obstacles to its transfer.
Money was an issue between the sides, with the department wanting to take over the building at little or no cost, but ERST said that it could be constrained legally from releasing the property at less than its commercial value.
Among the issues raised by ERST was that it was only permitted to sell off school buildings to "further the purpose of Catholic Education in the Edmund Rice tradition".
In a statement last night, ERST chief executive Gerry Bennet said it was pleased agreement had been reached to lease the premises.
He said the ERST had been assured by the department that every effort would be made "to ensure the continuation of the excellent work being done in the premises by local organisations serving local needs".
The department said it had reached agreement in principle with ERST on the use of the premises in Basin Lane by an alternative school patron and that the agreed arrangements did not involve any payments.