MORE than 600 people packed into the Parkway Hotel in Dunmanway on Monday night sending the Government its clearest signal yet that any threat to West Cork and Ireland’s small rural schools will be met with ferocious opposition.
Even Save Our Small Schools (SOSS) campaign chairwoman Clara McGowan who is principal of the 12-pupil St James’ National School in Durrus was impressed by the massive turnout.
She told the crowd that simply by turning up in such numbers they had already given a huge boost to the campaign.
SOSS says that changes to pupil-teacher ratios being introduced by Education Minister Ruari Quinn will effectively force the closure of many small schools with less than 50 pupils as they become untenable under the new rules.
They say that 10 schools in West Cork could be facing closure within three years.
Guest speakers at the event included John McKenna, editor of the Bridgestone Guides who warned that closing small schools would destroy communities in West Cork.
Speaker after speaker from the floor vowed to fight the cuts and warned Fine Gael TDs Jim Daly and Noel Harrington that they were expected to fight to keep the schools open.
Deputy County Mayor and independent councillor from Skibbereen Declan Hurley said that the attack on rural Ireland had to stop.
“They have closed the post offices and now the garda stations and next it is the schools. What is left to take?” he asked.
Edel Polly from Adrigole said that there were rules for how many pigs or chickens could be kept per square metre but apparently not for children while John Walsh from Bere Island said closing the island’s national school would destroy the community.
There was a palpable sense of anger in the room and Fine Gael TD Jim Daly was booed when he suggested some schools might need to be amalgamated on a “constructive basis”.
The biggest applause of the night came when Michael Cronin a parent from Kilmichael told Deputy Daly, “I pay my taxes so my children can be educated, not to repay a German bank’s debt”.
Anne Fay of the INTO said that parents and teachers should not apologise for wanting to retain small schools, “small schools are centres of excellence,” she said pledging the INTO’s full support for any national campaign.