Cllr Frankie Keena

Keena criticises Department of Education for failing to meet local councillors

"Disgraceful" is how an Athlone councillor described the fact that his year-old request to the Department of Education and Skills for a presentation about the future educational needs of the area had not received a response.

At the October 2020 meeting of the Athlone Moate Municipal District, Cllr Frankie Keena proposed a motion inviting a Department representative to attend a meeting in January 2021 "to discuss its plans for the future educational needs of Athlone and District."

The presentation didn't happen in January, or since then. When Cllr Keena queried the matter at this month's meeting he was told by District Administrator Frank Dolan that a request to address the councillors had been sent to the Department but there had been no response.

Cllr Keena said it was "disgraceful that they haven't replied," and Cllr John Dolan said another letter should be sent out, but this time it should go directly to the Education Minister, Norma Foley.

"A letter should go to the Minister, because if the Department do come to give a presentation it will be at her behest," said Cllr Dolan.

Cllr Johnny Penrose agreed that a letter should be written to the Minister and said a deputation of councillors could possibly go to meet with the Department "to try and fast-track it".

Cllr Keena said he had no issue with a letter being sent to the Minister, but he felt the council should also phone the Department to ask why there had been no response to the request for a presentation.

"We should lift the phone to the principal officer in the Department to find out what is the issue here, and inform that particular person that correspondence will be going to the Minister regarding their inaction and reluctance to engage with the Municipal District of Athlone and Moate.

"I just think it's absolutely crazy, what's going on here," he concluded.

The issue of future school capacity in Athlone has come in for increased attention in recent times, particularly after plans for massive strategic housing developments in the Coosan and Lissywollen areas were given the go-ahead by An Bord Pleanála.