Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Former Armagh star in nursery place dispute

Former Armagh Captain Stephen McDonnell has slammed a decision by his local school denying his 3 year old son a nursery place.

The GAA star has described Cloughoge Primary School’s selection policy as “absolutely disgraceful” after being told his youngest son Cahir cannot attend Cloughoge Nursery as he lives outside the parish boundaries used in its admissions criteria.  Mr McDonnell firmly disputes this fact, insisting his family live in the parish of Upper Killeavy and not Middle Killeavy which the school’s boundary map places his home in.

Cloughoge Primary School and Nursery Unit, which is just half a mile from the McDonnell home, received 70 applications for its 52 place unit this year and its admissions criteria gives preference to children residing in the parish of Upper Killeavy.

Mr McDonnell, whose two sons attend Cloughoge School, said he was “stunned” by the decision as he and his family are adamant they live and have always lived within the parish boundaries of Upper Killeavy.  He is furious that education authorities have now rejected an appeal against the decision and claims they ignored evidence he provided to the independent appeal tribunal which proved the family home is in Upper Killeavy.

Parish collection envelopes issued to the family by Parish Priest Fr Naughton clearly state the family’s address is in Upper Killeavy.  Letters from SDLP Newry and Armagh MLA Dominic Bradley and the Killeavy GAC were also presented to the appeal tribunal, stating that the McDonnell family live in Upper Killeavy.

The All-Ireland winner also claims that he was never able to obtain an official parish boundary map and that a roughly sketched parish boundary map materialised during the appeal tribunal.  According to Mr McDonnell, he and his wife were advised in their initial meeting with Principal Kate O’Hanlon that a parish boundary map would be made available but this was never forthcoming.

“Our letters were not considered, yet the map that could not be located during the appeal hearing was.  This is a disgrace of the highest order,” he said.

Speaking to The Examiner about the dispute, Mr McDonnell said he is “disgusted” by the decision and intends to meet with relevant bodies and local political representatives to “take this as high as we can.”

“This has come as a huge blow to us,” he said.  “We’ve never even considered another school for Cahir.  He already has two brothers at the school and a sister who went through the school. Myself and my wife both went to the old Cloughoge school as did our extended families.

“We’ve had over 40 years of being affiliated with Cloughoge school and for my youngest son to not attend the same school as his brothers is unthinkable,” he added.

“Who knows what psychological damage this could do to Cahir to be at a separate school from his brothers or how it might affect his education?

“We are not going to stay quiet about this, not just for our sake, but for all the other families whose children will be declined places at their own local schools.”

A spokesperson for the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) said,

“The governors of Cloughoge Primary School, Killeavy, County Armagh, are responsible for setting the admissions criteria in line with Department of Education guidelines.

“The school this year received 70 applicants for enrolment with only 52 places available. In the case of oversubscription it is up to the governors to apply the criteria.

“CCMS has no reason to doubt that in this instance the governors have acted appropriately.”