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Campaign to Save St Mary’s

 

Dr Stephen Farry, Minister for Employment and Learning, is proposing to take a course of action which will soon make St Mary’s University College no longer viable.

 

In The Picture - Campaign to Save St Mary's

Students of St Mary’s University College from a range of northern counties, along with Paul Maskey MP,
Professor Peter Finn, Bishop Noel Treanor, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness MLA,
Fr Tim Bartlett, Junior Minister Jennifer McCann MLA and Brian McFall.

 

Professor Finn is holding the first Register of students at St Mary’s which took place in 1900.  He said:

“The Register informs us that in the days before the partition of Ireland, students attended St Mary’s from places such as Sligo, Galway, Waterford, Kerry and Dublin, as well as the northern counties.  Indeed the government order to establish St Mary’s was issued in Dublin Castle in July of 1898 and the College was opened by the Dominican Sisters in 1900.  The order also led to the establishment of Mary Immaculate College in Limerick.  Today St Mary’s is seeking to protect its institutional autonomy.  This is necessary in order to have the authority to take decisions on matters relating to our distinctive faith-based mission, such as values, priorities and ethos. It is autonomy which the Minister Stephen Farry MLA is seeking to take away from St Mary’s and the College students have certainly let him know how they feel about that.”

Bishop of Down and Connor, Dr Noel Trainor, is the senior Trustee and also Chair of the College’s governing body. He said:

“Minister Farry’s proposals are a siren-call to all citizens who recognise the importance for society of provision for faith-based and faith-inspired education. St Mary’s students, true to their tradition, and manifesting the human and personal formation that is an integral part of their academic formation, mounted demonstrations and an on-line campaign in recent weeks that were characterised by finesse, respect and reasoned argument.”

Sinn Féin MLA, Martin McGuinness, reiterated his support for St Mary’s University College and the campaign to overturn the proposal by Employment Minister which is threatening the viability of the institution. Speaking after meeting with Bishop Noel Treanor and senior management at St Mary’s on 28th January 2015, Mr McGuinness commented:

“I was glad of this opportunity to engage directly with management, staff and students at St Mary’s and to restate Sinn Féin’s support for their energetic and inspiring campaign. The Minister’s decision is a direct threat to the future sustainability of St Mary’s. I do not believe it is necessary in light of the significantly enhanced financial settlement, which his department received in the Executive-agreed budget. I believe this is an ideological decision, which is more about targeting Catholic education than about addressing any budgetary pressures. The threat needs to be removed in order for constructive dialogue to take place between St Mary’s and the department towards an agreed way forward. St Mary’s are willing to do that but those talks need to take place without threats or preconditions. So I urge the Minister to rethink this decision otherwise I believe it is of such significance, that it may be referred to the Executive.”

Meanwhile, Fr Tim Bartlett, who is responsible for education in the Diocese of Down and Connor, warned the move was a “highly ideological, unnecessary and retrograde” attempt to remove a “vital and highly valued” Catholic institution in the north.

“The decision by Minister Farry to deliberately put St Mary’s in a position of such financial jeopardy undermines pluralism and choice in favour of a policy of forced integration, that is often a thinly disguised cover for intolerance of Catholicism and Catholic education itself,” according to Fr Bartlett.

He accused the Minister of leading an attack on all Catholic schools “and those others who benefit from the outstanding teachers and liberal arts graduates St Mary’s provides,” he said.

Local West Belfast MP, Paul Maskey, said there is deep anger in the community about the proposed cuts.

“The Minister is trying to impose Alliance party policy by doing away with Catholic education on this campus,” Mr Maskey said.

Jarlath Burns, principal of one of Ireland’s largest Catholic post-primary schools and former student of St Mary’s, has also hit out at the proposed cuts.

The head of St Paul’s High School, Bessbrook, Co Armagh, said the proposal “completely discriminates against people who wish to have their children educated in a Catholic school”.

“I went there, my wife went there and I have two children there. I hope the Minister can see beyond a superficial view of Catholic education and see the true value of it,” he said.

SDLP spokesperson for Employment and Learning, Pat Ramsey, accused Minister Farry of attacking Catholic schools for ideological reasons.

“There are many parents who want their children to be educated in a Catholic ethos. To meet the parental demand for Catholic schools we need a college of St Mary’s calibre to educate teachers,” Mr Ramsey said.

Thousands of people have signed a petition to save the college and a campaign against the Minister’s proposal is gathering pace on social media.