Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - County Kilkenny School.

42.

andMr. Pattison asked the Minister for Education if having regard to the objections of the parents to the closure of Knocktopher national school, County Kilkenny, he will reconsider his decision to amalgamate this school with Ballyhale national school.

The matter of the educational facilities to be provided for the children in the Knocktopher school district has been thoroughly investigated. Having given the fullest consideration to all the facts disclosed by the investigation, I am satisfied that the educational interests of these children would best be served by conveying them to an enlarged school at Ballyhale in the same parish.

The educational welfare of the children precludes me from reconsidering this decision.

The Minister assured us on at least two occasions with regard to the closure of schools that he would have respect for the wishes of the parents. In this case there have been four meetings held and at those meetings the parents unanimously protested against the closure of the school. I would like to ask him if those were only formal or sham meetings? Has he already made up his mind without any consideration for the parents? There is a case for this school being maintained as a national school. It is a modern school. Those children will be sent to a school where there will be only prefabricated classrooms. I ask the Minister to reconsider this matter on that ground.

Mr. O'Malley

The Deputy says that a lot of meetings took place. My divisional inspector reported that in regard to the last parents' meeting— there is another school concerned here——

I am not asking a question about that.

Mr. O'Malley

——the parents did not put forward any valid arguments in regard to the amalgamation. I looked at the files thoroughly. My real object is the educational advancement of the children.

Here you have a fine school for 73 children.

The Deputy must ask a question.

The Minister is just closing the school because apparently he wants to bring them all into one school. He should look at this matter in a reasonable way. This is a good, modern school.

Mr. O'Malley

I try to adopt a reasonable attitude with regard to the closing of this school and the amalgamation. The Deputy will appreciate that this matter has been postponed already. Like the medical cards, I try to look at each case on its merits. I try to get the parents to see the matter reasonably and I get the officers of my Department to consider the matter with the parents on all occasions where there are objections. In this instance there are three schools in the parish, Knocktopher, Ballyhale and Castle-gannon. The Knocktopher school, the subject of the Deputy's question, is only one and a half miles from Ballyhale. All the schools are two-teacher schools and in accordance with the official policy for centralisation of all schools, my inspector reported that this was a desirable thing to do. From the considered recommendations made by him and my officials, the correct thing to do was to close this school. The combined enrolment of the three parish schools would only warrant a staff of five teachers, but my Department are prepared to retain the six teachers serving at present in the three schools. I think we are doing the right thing.

Would the Minister postpone his decision so that he could have another detailed look at this proposal?

Mr. O'Malley

I went into the thing carefully. I do not use the big stick with regard to this matter at all. Deputy Crotty and Deputy Pattison will appreciate that there is a little bit of political agitation here.

There is more than that.

Keep out of that. I resent that, and I say that we could have put in that question earlier but we reserved resorting to the Parliamentary Question in the hope that the school would be maintained. It is not correct to say that there was any political influence at all.

Would the Minister say if you have a school with 83 children and all the parents ask that the school the children are at present attending should be left open, is that not in itself an adequate reason for saying: "Very well; it should be left as it is. So be it." You then have regard to the parents and the children. How can the Minister and the advisers in his Department reach the conclusion that all the parents of all the children are wrong? Surely that is not a realistic approach assuming as I am prepared to assume, that the Minister is not approaching this problem on an across-the-board way of neglecting special cases? Surely there must be something in it when all the parents are unanimous about this matter? They cannot all be Fine Gael children.

Mr. O'Malley

The Deputy is not right in that supposition. That is a hypothetical case.

I thought you said "all the parents."

Mr. O'Malley

I did not say that. It would not be the end of the argument. Supposing all the parents voted to retain a two-teacher school——

83 pupils.

Mr. O'Malley

There are 75. It would be a factor in my consideration but it would not be the deciding factor. I would just like to say that I try to meet the parents' wishes as much as possible within reason. I am satisfied that what I am doing in this instance is in the educational interests of the children. The Knocktopher school is only one and a half miles away from the Ballyhale school.

Would the Minister give any consideration whatever to the unanimous protest from the county council that this school be retained open? The county council is made up of every political Party and as I say it was a unanimous decision that the school be retained.

Is the Minister prepared to reconsider postponing the decision?

Mr. O'Malley

No.

It is a queer thing if all the parents and the local authority voted unanimously against the closing of this school.

Mr. O'Malley

Would the Deputy be impressed if the reverend manager was in favour of the amalgamation?

The reverend manager was in favour of its being retained in Knocktopher.

Mr. O'Malley

Is he?

As far as I know, he is.

Mr. O'Malley

The Deputy should ask him.

It is true that the reverend manager's opinion is worth consideration but the objections of parents in any parish in Ireland, whether they be Protestant or Catholic, are also worthy of consideration. They are entitled to make their protest.

Mr. O'Malley

My decision is not based on proportional representation.

It is all very well to say that the reverend manager and the parents are in conflict about this matter. I have brought cases to the Minister where the parents and the reverend manager expressed opinions about such matters. Is it not true that consideration should be given to parents who are fully entitled to have their views considered?

Mr. O'Malley

As I said to the Deputy when he raised that point a few weeks ago, all these facts, facets, representations and opinions are taken into consideration by me in arriving at a decision. I believe I am doing the right thing. What would it mean to me were I not to go ahead with it?

Would the Minister have another look at it?

Mr. O'Malley

I have been looking at it for ages.