A second multi-denominational primary school is to open in Co Kerry this September after agreement was reached between the State and the Bishop of Kerry to transfer a primary school in the diocese to the patronage of the local Education and Training Board.
Two Mile National School is a small rural school just over five kilometres from Killarney.
It has lain idle this year because no pupils enrolled.
In recent years the school has suffered from a declining enrollment – two years ago it had 17 children in attendance.
The Department of Education says despite lying empty the school had not closed down. However, it is not listed on the Department’s database of schools for the current school year.
The school will reopen in September as a Community National School, assuming it can attract pupils.
In a statement the department said the Catholic Church would now lease the school building to the ETB “for the purposes of providing a Community National School”.
The department and Kerry ETB say details of the lease, including rental, have yet to be worked out.
More than 99% of Kerry’s 16,000 primary school-going children attend schools controlled by the Catholic Church.
The county has just one multi-denominational school, catering for 72 children, and just two Church of Ireland schools catering for 66 children between them.
This amounts to less than 1% of the total primary school provision in the county.
Two of these non-Catholic schools are in Tralee town, and the third is in nearby Castlemaine.
This leaves large parts of the county with no primary school provision beyond Catholic schools.
A survey carried out by the Department of Education four years ago found “viable demand” for multi-denominational provision in the Killarney area.
However a substantial majority of parents who wanted non-Catholic education for their children favoured the opening of a multi-denominational school run by patron body Educate Together.
The survey was limited to parents of primary and preschool children who supplied PPS numbers and other details in order to participate.
While 83 of those parents favoured the Educate Together model, just 27 favoured the Community National School model.
The Community National School model is favoured however by the Catholic Church because it allows for faith formation, including preparation for Communion and Confirmation, during the school day.
In its statement, the Department of Education said it would continue to seek a property for an Educate Together school in the Killarney area.
Patron body Educate Together has said it is disappointed and concerned by the news.
Reiterating accusations that Minister for Education Richard Bruton was giving undue influence to the Catholic Church, Educate Together said news of this school transfer vindicated its concerns.
The body said it had been engaging with parents in the Killarney area for four years with a view to establishing an Educate Together school in the town. It said interest levels in the town remained high.
It added that it had also actively engaged with the Department of Education to establish a school in Killarney, having proposed various viable school accommodation options for the Department to investigate, including the vacant Two Mile building.
It said the transfer of Two Mile school to Community National School status was taking place despite the fact that parents had clearly expressed a preference for an Educate Together school.
In a statement, Educate Together CEO Paul Rowe said the State needed to take control of the process, so that the needs of local communities, and not Bishops or religious orders, were central.