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School staff ‘gobsmacked’ by phone rant from Coughlan

January 28, 2011

Education Minister Mary Coughlan took time out of her busy schedule to berate a “gobsmacked” school deputy principal in an angry phone call, made after she saw a story in the Irish Independent.

The minister’s rant — at a time when the Government teetered near collapse and a Fianna Fail leadership contest was under way — came after authorities in the Dublin school commented on delays in providing a new building. Gaelscoil Bharra in Cabra has been waiting 15 years for a new building and staff were not convinced by a sudden promise made on Monday by the minister to include it in a list of 400 school projects. Principal Sean O Donaile’s sceptical comments enraged the minister, who picked up the phone and personally rang the school early on Tuesday morning to express her anger in strong terms.

The principal was out sick and the phone was answered by deputy principal Aodh O Mairtin, who received the tongue lashing from the minister. At one stage he interrupted her to ask “are you cross?” to which she replied “yes, I’m very cross”. She then gave him her phone number and demanded that he get the principal to call her back but Mr O Donaile was unavailable to do so. A spokesman for Ms Coughlan confirmed the minister had telephoned the school. He said he was “not privy” to the conversation that took place but insisted that it was to reassure school management that they were getting a new building.

Last night the school’s treasurer Maria Temple said she was “gobsmacked” that the minister would telephone the school herself, especially “as it puts her in such a bad light”. She said it was appalling that the Gaelscoil had to wait for 15 years for a permanent building while other all-Irish schools that were only a few years old had been given new buildings. Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern visited the prefab school in 1998 and 2002 and the then Education Minister Mary Hanafin visited it in 2003. But the files for the school went missing for five years and little or no progress was made on a new building. This week it was included among projects where briefs will be formulated in the current year and the process of appointing a design team will commence.

The chair of the board of management Feargal O Cuilinn confirmed that the minister had made known that she was “disappointed with our reaction to the announcement” and he acknowledged the efforts over the past few years by department officials to secure a site for a new school. Neither the principal or deputy principal would comment last night. Mr O Donaile, had been quoted in the Irish Independent on Tuesday as saying he would not believe anything until he saw bricks and mortar to replace the school’s totally unsuitable and unhealthy prefabs. The Cabra Gaelscoil was among nearly 100 new school projects that appeared on the lists published on Monday — the other 300 are at different stages of the planning and building process.

Labour education spokesman Ruairi Quinn claimed that the announcement represented the first cynical campaign promise in an election that had not even been called yet. But a spokesman for the minister denied that the announcement was related to recent political developments and said that she had fully intended announcing her school building programme in January. Three of the school’s prefabs were flooded over the past few weeks and a small fire broke out in another one yesterday.

Irish Independent – John Walshe
28 Eanáir 2011