Fury as SNP council decides St Martin’s should shut
Catholic Church representative Ellen McBride makes the long, lonely walk back to her car after the meeting in Dumbarton on Wednesday. Pictures by Bill Heaney
By Bill Heaney
West Dunbartonshire Council’s SNP administration today agreed to shut St Martin’s RC primary School in Renton in two years’ time – just days after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon publicly backed Catholic education in Scotland in the annual Cardinal Thomas Winning Lecture at the University of Glasgow.
The education committee pushed through the decision by 10 votes to four after Ellen McBride, a former head teacher at St Peter’s PS in Bellsmyre, Dumbarton, the Catholic Church’s representative, said that after consultation with Archbishop Philip Tartaglia she was voting for closure.
The motion to shut the school was put forward by education committee chair Karen Conaghan, who said although she had been educated at a Catholic school, she could not support the amendment which involved accommodating the St Martin’s pupils in a new building and retaining a Catholic education presence in the village.
Parents’ representative Drew MacEoghainn said there had been a Catholic school in Renton for the past 118 years and made an impassioned plea to keep it there.
Miss McBride spoke about the “exceptional achievement” and “remarkable results” currently being achieved at St Martin’s, where there are now just 60 pupils in what is a very small school.
She said the Catholic Church had a policy at the moment to make their schools big schools.
However, bigger schools usually mean larger class sizes and fewer teachers, according to Labour councillor Martin Rooney, pictured left, who made the point that big was not always better.
Nicola Sturgeon said the Scottish Government would be giving an extra £100,000 next year for Catholic teacher training, a move in response to which the Secular Society of Scotland issued a statement saying they were bitterly opposed to this.
Secularists want to see the law changed which allows Catholics to have their own schools, even if they are part of a shared campus with non-denomination schools, as exists at the recently opened Balloch PS and St Kessog’s, where children share dining and play facilities.
Miss McBride said she supported the education department’s view that Catholic education in Renton should be discontinued and that the pupils should move to St Mary’s PS in Bank Street, Alexandria, once the refurbishment and upgrading of St Mary’s had been completed. The time estimated for this work was included in the report to the committee.
Labour members made the point that St Mary’s is an old school campus where the pupils eat their school dinners in a temporary hut and where there is no disabled access to the upper school.
However, Miss McBride, the archdiocesan representative, maintained that £19 million earmarked for a new school in Renton was not the best use of public money.
St Martin’s parents and supporters look hopeful before the meeting.
Labour’s Cllr Rooney denied that this was the case. The money had already been allocated for a new school and cash from other sources had taken that to £30 million plus.
Expense was no excuse. The Renton pupils deserved their new school and moving them to Alexandria would involve transport and road safety issues.
The SNP administration and the education officials knew fine well that if they put the matter off for two years and brought it back for discussion at that time they would in effect be issuing a closure order for St Martin’s.
The two year delay would simply amount to the SNP council “kicking it into the long grass,” which, given the state of the grounds outside the building, brought smiles to a few of those people quick on the uptake.
The result would be that parents would choose not to send their children to St Martin’s because the school’s future was uncertain – “parents want a definite plan for their children’s education, not to be left in Limbo.”
A roll call vote was taken at the meeting and there were shouts of Judas and Betrayal from the packed public benches, especially when SNP Cllrs Ian Dickson and Caroline McAllister, (pictured above with SNP leader Jonathan McColl), raised their hands in support of the motion.
SNP leader Jonathan McColl denied that he had ever said he would resign if the SNP ever voted to close St Martin’s. After the meeting the St Martin’s parents were furious, both with the SNP and the Catholic Church.
Stephen Storrie, their chairperson, said there was no way he would be sending his children to St Mary’s in Alexandria and a number of others agreed with him. He was deeply disappointed by the Catholic Church’s position as put to the committee by Ellen McBride (pictured right).
Drew MacEoghainn, who has been to the fore in the campaign to keep the school open, said: “The parents have been betrayed both by the SNP and the Catholic Church.”
News of the decision would not be welcomed back in the village by the parishioners of St Martin’s Church, he added, the future of which is also said to be under review as the Church moves to reduce the number of parishes in the Vale of Leven due to priest shortages and dwindling congregations.
The new joint campus at Balloch, where St Kessog’s and Balloch PS are now accommodated. Questions are being asked as to why the village of Renton cannot have something similar. Picture by Bill Heaney