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Outcry at go-ahead for new Catholic schools

APPROVAL has been given for two new Catholic primary schools -- despite the admission by bishops that the church already has too many.

The decision by Education Minister Batt O'Keeffe has angered Educate Together, which is the patron body for 56 multi-denominational primary schools.

Chief executive Paul Rowe said: "the abundance of Catholic primary schools in the country has been well documented, with the church recently acknowledging an inherent oversupply. Yet new Catholic schools have been announced for Drogheda and Galway."

Patrons of the new schools will be Bishop Martin Drennan in Galway and Cardinal Sean Brady in Drogheda.

Mr Rowe was particularly annoyed over the school in Galway, as Educate Together had been given the go-ahead for a school in the expanding Doughiska area five years ago but was unable to secure a site.

In addition, a 2009 NUI study commissioned by Galway's planning and area development committee recommended that any new school should cater for the intercultural needs of the area, which has 33 different nationalities.

He claimed Mr O'Keeffe had now announced new schools that did not match local need.

Mr Rowe said also that the expansion of the VEC pilot primary school programme into three new areas -- Navan in Co Meath, Kells in Co Kildare and Balbriggan in Co Dublin -- was equally a matter for serious concern. No data on the success of the current two VEC primary schools in Co Dublin was yet available.

But the Irish National Teachers' Organisation welcomed the three additional VEC community national schools.

Incoming general secretary Sheila Nunan said they had the potential to accommodate the provision of separate or common religious education programmes or none during the school day, in accordance with parental choice.

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The Catholic Primary School Management Association welcomed the decision to approve two new Catholic schools and said this was in line with parental wishes in both Galway and Drogheda.

Sources pointed out that the new schools were in expanding areas and the approval did not contradict the church's agreement that it had too many schools as this statement did not apply in most new areas.

A spokesperson for Mr O'Keeffe said that extensive consultation had taken place with the different patron groups on the establishment of new primary schools and these discussions took full account of rising pupil numbers in rapidly developing areas.

He also announced that Educate Together would be the patron of two schools, in Swords, Co Dublin, and Portlaoise.

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