The ‘holy row’ between a Catholic diocese and St Flannan’s College in Ennis over plans by the diocese to sell off green space at the secondary school for a €25m HSE community hospital has intensified.
This follows College Principal, Fr Ignatius McCormack telling Clare Co Council that the college’s Board of Management is not in favour of the 100 bed hospital being built on St Flannan’s College grounds.
In its first public statement on the matter by way of a submission to the Council on behalf of the Board of Management, Fr McCormack has stated that “the board is of course well aware of the need for a suitable site for the proposed hospital, but respectfully suggests that other suitable sites, which do not cut across existing intensive use by a large proportion of the youth of the area must be available.”
Fr McCormack goes on to state that “it surely cannot be the case that the provision of proper healthcare and the provision of sporting facilities for the youth of the area must be placed in conflict.”
Fr McCormack said that the board of management “endorse the apprehension expressed by the planning authority that the scope of future expansion (of St Flannan’s College) will be curtailed by the proposed development”.
Pointing out that the playing pitches at St Flannan’s College are intensively used throughout the year, Fr McCormack stated that “the loss of a pitch is not something that can be easily absorbed without curtailing student sporting activity”.
Secretary to the Board of Management, Fr McCormack said: “A soccer pitch developed at considerable expense, and which will be lost if the development proceeds, is used on a daily basis for the playing of matches and training.”
The intervention by the College Board of Management places it at loggerheads with the Bishop of Killaloe, Fintan Monahan who confirmed last month that the diocese intends to proceed with the land sale to facilitate the hospital development despite the opposition of teaching staff at the College.
In January, staff at the college released a statement outlining their opposition to the hospital plan and now their views have been supported by the Retired Teachers of St Flannan’s College lodging a group objection to the planned hospital.
In a submission to the council with the names of 27 retired teachers attached, they state that they “wholeheartedly support the present staff and board of management in their campaign to prevent the alienation of a portion of the college grounds”.
They state that the HSE proposals “represents a massive encroachment on the College’s playing fields”.
They state that “in addition to depriving students of a facility that is central to their educational needs, the structures proposed for the new nursing home are far too close to the school buildings”.
The retired teachers state that they have no issue with the new nursing home, which is badly needed “but based on our long experience of St Flannan’s, we consider that a nursing home located within the grounds would not contribute either to the welfare either of patient…or of College students”.
They state that they urge the Council not to grant permission which would involve the destruction of existing infrastructure.
Some of the names of the retired teachers supporting the objection include Liam Ashe, Denis Canty, Michael Corley, Tommy Curtin, Arthur Ford, PJ Garry, Eamon Giblin, Joseph Hanrahan, Joe Hester, Maura Hitching, Tim Kelly, Michael Loughnane, Pat Lynch, Colm McDonagh, Seamus McMahon, John Minogue, Con O’Donoghue, Ciaran O Murchadha, Peter Quinn, Grace Ryan and Tim Ryan.
Last month, Fr Albert McDonnell on behalf of the diocese’s property arm, the St Flannan’s (Killaloe) Diocesan Trust provided a letter lodged with the Council which stated that the Trust do not intend to use the planned hospital site for the future development of the school.
Placing the diocese at odds with the St Flannan’s staff and board of Management, Fr McDonnell stated that “this area is on the periphery of the campus and in the event that the school requires expansion in the future, the Trust believes that there is ample space in the remaining lands for this to occur”.
A decision is due on the application next month.