Renton parents, Archbishop Tartaglia, Ellen McBride and St Martin’s, which the people of Renton desperately want to save against the wishes of the Church.
EXCLUSIVE BY Bill Heaney
The people of Renton must be wondering today if West Dunbartonshire Council are being deliberately vindictive when it comes to the way they are dealing with the St Martin’s Primary School closure crisis.
The parents and supporters of St Martin’s, who would wish to see the school kept open and for the children not to be transferred to St Mary’s in Alexandria feel badly let down by the Council and Catholic Church in Glasgow.
Archbishop Philip Tartaglia sent his emissary, Ellen McBride, a retired head teacher from St Peter’s in Bellsmyre, to a meeting of the education committee to inform the Council that he was content for the closure of St Martin’s to go ahead.
This was despite the number of times the Archbishop has spoken out publicly about the importance of keeping Catholic schools for Catholic children – and segregating the children from their non-denominational neighbours, Protestants and Muslims.
For a time, parents in Bellsmyre, where a joint campus was created, were told to take their children in one gate if they were Catholic and in another if they were of a different religion.
The staff too were segregated and made to use a different staffroom.
When the St Martin’s parents went along to the old County Buildings at Garshake to make their feelings known about the Alexandria move, they were squeezed into a packed room on a roasting hot day, which was extremely uncomfortable and afforded standing room only for some.
Meanwhile, the door was kept closed at the Council chamber, which could have easily comfortably accommodated the crowd who had turned up
Miss McBride, who backed the Council against parents, was criticised from the public benches, but not excessively so that they had to be warned to be quiet by the chair.
And when the meeting finished she delayed her departure from the building to her car because a photographer was taking pictures of committee members and officials at the front door.
She was then “smuggled” out of the back door to her car in the car park by two communications officers, but the photographer was alert, nipped up a flight of stairs and got the picture from about 50 yards away. He also got a picture of the communications officers.
He has now been falsely accused of shouting questions at Miss McBride and poking her in the chest in an aggressive manner, which is something he didn’t do.
Bill Heaney has also been accused by the SNP council leader Jonathan McColl of not doing something he was never obliged to do – registering with a regulator – and, again, of aggressively poking the chest of Amanda Graham, a senior communications officer. Not to mention, not passing a piece of paper along a bench in the council chamber.
He said: “I told her quietly to ‘bugger off’ when I was having a word with the Provost about the fact I was unable to hear what was going on from the seats allocated to the media. And I was unable to identify the councillors and officials who were speaking either.”
It was incredible that a young woman from Renton should be so upset by these two words.
For the £15 million it cost for the refurbishment of the Burgh Hall and to create a council chamber, the contractors did not create a site that was fit for purpose.
A chamber in which the public can neither see nor hear the proceedings taking place in their name is of no use to anyone.
At a subsequent meeting, Amanda Graham tried to remove Mr Heaney from the council chamber, making it clear he was persona non grata, but he told her that if she wanted to do that she would have to call the police to do it.
She backed off when Cllr Jim Bollan said Mr Heaney was perfectly entitled to be present at the meeting. He was well known to most people there and had been a bona fide journalist for more than 50 years.
It became obvious that the Council did not wish to have anyone of reputation and experience and probing into their affairs and the reason why became clear when it was revealed that a major graft and corruption inquiry was going on behind the scenes.
And that reports from Audit Scotland would not have given the Council praise for its work had it been revealed to them earlier that so many rules were being broken by council officers in relation to procurement of contracts and a failure to implement the code of conduct for managers.
It became clear that the Council had plenty to hide and even clearer when the Care Commission released two damning reports in the past fortnight.
This week, when the St Martin’s children were preparing to go back to their own school until St Mary’s was ready for them, it became clear that the Renton school resembled a building site.
And dismayed parents started to consider whether it was a safe place to send their children, and whether it was in fact safe to send them back.
Community Party supporter Drew MacEoghainn sent a message round parents saying: “If anyone has time go down and look at our school!
“It’s a total building site where they have proposed to close a stairwell leaving only one open when our kids return.
“Christie Park is the priority according to the workmen with St Martin’s an ‘ongoing project’ which can be completed whenever!
“This is nothing short of a disgrace; the gym is full of stoor with workmen on scaffold still putting windows in.
“The windows which have been fitted need plastered beneath them to stop water penetration, but CR Smith said that is not their job!
“They’re [the Council is] proposing to leave around 20m2 on the playground at the nursery side for the kids to play in as scaffold is up all around the building.”
He added: “Honestly, please contact our councillors. This is absolutely disgusting asking our kids and staff to go onto this building site come Monday.”
Drew MacEoghainn said photographs taken this week did not reflect how bad the situation was – “There’s scaffolding all over the dining hall; the gym equipment is bundled in the centre all dust, [and there are] no dust sheets.
“It’s deplorable, C. R. Smith don’t do weekends, so not a great deal will change before Monday.”
Marie Therese McGinley said: “It’s a disgrace! Think everyone should keep their kids off if it’s a danger to them, they are so excited to go back as well, let down again.”
It would appear now that the Council will have angry parents knocking on their door over the weekend to protest.
Lynn Buckley McFettridge said: “Time to start making some noise again, I think!”
And Cheryl Grice commented: “This is a joke. They have had all summer to get this sorted and ready for our kids going in on Monday.”
The parents have contacted Jackie Baillie MSP to intervene, but the SNP administration will not want to see her achieving anything since she is Labour.
Ann Carr said: “That’s an absolute disgrace. Seven weeks the kids have been off and they’ve too return on Monday to a building site.
“Why is Christie Park more important than our wee school. That’s an absolute joke.”
The Council has refused to comment to The Democrat on the grounds that we publish stories that are critical of them.
Someone should tell them that in a democracy, it is widely recognised that’s what we are here for.
And how Renton has suffered from neglect by succeeding councils over the years by having their community centre, their library and now their school closed, all in the name of austerity.