THE Government's education standards body has decided to withdraw recognition from an English language school in Dublin, of which former education minister Batt O'Keeffe is president and chairman of the board.
The school is a department of Eden College, Burgh Quay, Dublin, which shares a parent company with Eden College International, London. The latter has been the subject of controversy in the UK.
Earlier this week, Eden College International featured on BBC's 'Panorama' programme, which showed fake candidates sitting tests in English and a multiple choice exam where the answers were read out.
In a development unrelated to the 'Panorama' investigation, the Department of Education confirmed to the Irish Independent that a standards agency had decided to withdraw recognition as an English language school from Eden College, Dublin.
The decision was made by the committee representing the Departments of Education and Justice, Failte Ireland and Enterprise Ireland on the grounds that it was not in compliance with standards.
Mr O'Keeffe told this newspaper last night that the college was challenging the decision to withdraw recognition.
"There is an appeals process and we believe we have put in a very strong appeal," he said.
Mr O'Keeffe also said that while Eden College Dublin and Eden College International shared family ownership links, "there is absolutely no connection from an operational point of view".
The former minister added that while he was in the Department of Education, he had initiated the quality-assurance system for English language schools.
Arising from the 'Panorama' allegations, the UK Home Office has suspended Eden College International and another college, as well as English language tests run by a major firm.
Eden College International strongly denied any prior knowledge of, or complicity, in the alleged frauds.
A Department of Justice spokesperson said that the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) was aware of allegations of immigration abuses at Eden College International.
"We are currently liaising with the UK Home Office on the matter. We are closely monitoring the situation both in Dublin and in the UK," the spokesperson said.
He added that as part of the regulatory process for student immigration, the department had been in ongoing contact with Eden College, Dublin, "but it would not be appropriate to discuss the nature of that discourse".
A Department of Education spokesperson also said that it too was aware of the serious allegations made in the BBC 'Panorama' investigation.
The spokesperson pointed out that one of the department's agencies, Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI), provides recognition for English language schools through its ACELS function (Accreditation and Co-ordination of English Language Services).
She confirmed that ACELS "decided in December to withdraw recognition from Eden College as it was found to be non-compliant with ACELS standards. The college has appealed the decision and that process is ongoing."
As a result, Eden College in Dublin last week failed in its application to renew membership of Marketing English Ireland (MEI), the umbrella group for recognised English language schools in Ireland.
Eden College has been a member of MEI for a number of years, but MEI chief executive David O'Grady said there was a unanimous decision at a board meeting last Friday to reject its application for 2014. He said the college would remain on the MEI website pending the outcome of its appeal.
An Eden College Dublin spokesperson said it currently has 400 English language students. As well as English language courses, it also offers further and higher education courses, which are accredited by educational bodies in the UK.
Eden College Dublin confirmed that it has no links to Eden School of English, Eden Quay, Dublin.