Families that house Irish language students in the Dunlewey and Meenaclady areas could suffer a severe financial blow this summer as a result of the controversial closure of Coláiste Cholmcille last year.
In May 2011, it was announced by Concos, the umbrella organisation for Irish-language summer colleges, that Coláiste Cholmcille, the school at the centre of the Michael Ferry sex abuse case, was no longer a member of the organisation. Irish courses for secondary-level students were being held in the school during the summer and Concos asked the college to suspend its membership until the Ferry case was fully clarified.
Speaking on Raidió na Gaeltachta this week, the director of a new college, Coláiste Ghaoth Dobhair said that he would never step foot in the school, Ardscoil Mhuire, following the harrowing truths that unfolded there last year.
Director Diarmad Ó’Tuama said that the greatest difficulty that they encountered this year was trying to get students to attend their college.
“There is a small chance that there may be a small number of students in Dunlewey but there will be none in Meenaclady,” he said.
Spokesperson on behalf of the Mná Tí and member of Údarás na Gaeltachta, Grainne Mhic Geidigh said that while the stigma that is attached to Ardscoil Mhuire will remain there forever, she welcomes a new college, that is not affiliated in any manner with Coláiste Cholmcille to the area.
She said: “I welcome a new college to the area, one that is not affiliated in any shape or form with Coláiste Cholmcille. The areas which we are discussing are areas that are rich in the use of the Irish language, that are rich in culture and have all the amenities that are perfect to house an Irish college in the area.”
She added that many families had, aided by a substantial grant from the Department of Gaeltacht Affairs, spent thousands on upgrading their homes to an acceptable standard of health and safety.
“Some families have spent a very substantial amount of money upgrading their homes to the standard of health and safety that was required. While they did receive grant aid, nonetheless it cost a substantial amount of money.
Families in these areas depend greatly on the money generated from this industry. This industry pumps huge money into the local economy and we also benefit from this industry in the future as the people who attended colleges return on many occasions.
“While, it is very difficult to estimate how much this industry is worth to our economy, it is worth fifty five million euro to the Gaeltacht areas in this country on an annual basis,” she said.
Mhic Geidigh added that the Department of Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht affairs were partially to blame for the situation as they had not given the new college recognition in time for Coláiste Ghaoth Dobhair to carry out a marketing campaign.
“The Department of Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht Affairs must take some responsibility for this as they did not give the new college the go ahead in time to carry out a marketing campaign which is central to their recruiting students.”
In 2009, 777 attended colleges in three areas; 113 students attended the Irish college in Dunlewey; 512 attended the Irish college in Derrybeg and 152 students attended the Irish college in Meenacladdy.
The Department of Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht Affairs paid €931,101 in Donegal in 2009.
The estimated for each college to the area was €25,137 in Dunlewey, €70,298 in Derrybeg and €29, 862 in Meenacladdy a combined spending of €125,297.
After sentencing Ferry to 14 years with four suspended at the Central Criminal Court last summer, Mr Justice Paul Carney said the authorities must have been aware Ferry had a conviction for a similar offence.
Ferry had been found guilty of abusing a young man in 2002.
Justice Minister Alan Shatter asked the Garda Commissioner to investigate if, after the first conviction, gardaí and the HSE had contact with the school management.
Last summer, the directors of Coláiste Cholmcille, who ran the school said it was “factually incorrect” to say Ferry continued in his role as caretaker after 2002. A HSE report is due to be completed within the coming weeks. It will examine how the Gaoth Dobhair man continued to work as a caretaker in a building which was being used to run Irish language courses. While the report is to be made public, the HSE have yet to confirm whether those who were affected will be given the report ahead of publication.