The community of Longford gathered in large numbers on Wednesday night last, in the gym of Meán Scoil Mhuire, Longford town, a fitting location to kick off the school’s drive for a new school building.
The focus of the information night became evident from the start, with Principal of Meán Scoil Mhuire, Ms Aoife Mulrennan, relaying to attendees that this was ‘no election stunt’.
She stated: “This is not about gaining votes. Yes we used the vehicle of the election to our benefit, but this is not about votes.
“We need a large show of voices. We all need to push forward on this. Longford needs this.”
All general election candidates running in Longford Westmeath were invited to attend, with Micheál Carrigy, Joe Flaherty, Kevin Boxer Moran and Gabriel McFadden all present to commit to the cause, as well as local representatives Cllr Gerry Warnock and Cllr Seamus Butler.
“We need you to speak up,” Ms Mulrennan said to candidates.
“We ask them to pledge their support.”
This support the campaign did receive, though not before Ms Mulrennan, with the help of John McGovern of the Board of Management, Michelle Keogh of the teaching staff, Marie Kenny the voice of parents, and students Keeva, Tabitha and Amy, detailed how and where the school was lacking.
John McGovern gave a brief history of the school itself, the Board of Management and Ceist’s involvement. He confirmed that the campaign had the complete support of Ceist, before stressing the importance of this project to the area.
“Meánscoil Mhuire has a very desirable product.
“Exam results are consistently above the national average in both Junior Cert and Leaving Cert,” he explained.
Ms Mulrennan noted that good things happen in the school academically, in spite of the conditions facing its 560 students. A number of the issues facing the school include the age of the building, which in turn leads to higher heating costs, a lack of space for the growing student populus, limited PE and dining facilities, a lack of adequate toilet facilities, dated facilities and equipment for subjects relating to science and IT, and a lack of accessibility for students with mobility issues, to name a few.
To showcase the inadequacies facing the school, Ms Mulrennan noted that requirements state a dining hall should be a minimum of 180sq m, with the current facilities just 67sq m. Other inadequacies include the toilet situation, with a requirement of 34 and only 15 currently in place. PE facilities should also be a minimum of 549sq m, with facilities of just 172sq m in place in the Longford school.
Parking was another sore topic, with many teachers and parents collecting students having to avail of the car park at Lidl. The school should also have six spaces allocated for visitors and six for the PE hall, but currently have none. These points were reaffirmed by teacher Michelle Keogh.
She said: “The reality is the lack of car parking facilities creates a myriad of problems. It results in saturated teachers arriving at school on winter mornings.
“Quite simply, we do not have enough. We make do, we adapt, but why should we have to?
“The reality of teaching in this school is the reality of ‘adapt and overcome’.
“We compromise, we adapt, but it impacts on our students and our teachers.”
Ms Keogh then referenced the school’s sports teams, with their All-Ireland winning team from 2011 achieving the feat despite not having a pitch of their own.
She stated; “Is it unreasonable in 2020 to ask for a modern state-of-the-art building for 600 young women, that will enable them to achieve their hopes, dreams and aspirations? Is it unreasonable to ask for a new school with purpose built facilities for 40 plus teachers with similar hopes, dreams and aspirations?”
The extremity of the situation was then driven home by students, Amy Devlin, Keeva Duke and Tabitha Akinyemi. Keeva Duke outlined how much of a hindrance the quality of the school has on the education of students.
“It is not normal and completely unacceptable. Your hands should not be turning purple in a place like this.
“Education is virtually impossible, when all you can think of is rushing to the nearest radiator at the next break.”
Tabitha Richard Akinyeme criticised the lack of action from the department.
“This has gone on long enough,” she said.
“The decision made by the department of education to ignore appeals for a new school for Meán Scoil Mhuire has been to the detriment of the entire student body.
“It is simply outrageous that our futures, our passions are at stake because of an apathetic body. We, the students, desperately need a new school to reach our fullest potential.”
Amy Devlin concluded the input from students by first noting the excellent achievements and legacy of the school, before asking election candidates present what they want their legacy to be. Voice of parents, Marie Kenny, then called on parents to support the campaign.
She said: “We are very fortunate that this is the school we present our daughters to for education.
“This isn’t 1982, this is 2019/2020. The girls get a first rate education, but in a third rate facility. Enough is enough and it is time the parents and the community became aware of what life is like here in Meán Scoil Mhuire. That is why we are here tonight.
“This is only the beginning. It has to move on from here.”
Longford/Westmeath general election candidates present then issued their support to the campaign.
Cllr Carrigy stated: “I am fully committed to working with the staff, Ms Mulrennan, the Board Of Management and the parents council, to make this a reality. I got a tour of the school a number of months ago and the reality is, action is needed very shortly.”
Cllr Flaherty said: “I fully appreciate and understand the place this school has in local history and the local community. It is a huge asset for the community. This isn’t a new issue; it is going back to when Sr Elizabeth retired in 2002.”
“You have my 100% support. He who shouts loudest gets. You have to keep fighting,” said Gabriel McFadden.