In case anyone was under the impression that community asset transfer is being pushed here as a panacea for all ills and all occasions then what Scoil an Droichid are currently going through should serve as a dire warning of some of the risks involved.
It’s not that the school is not in general terms viable. But that the original transfer of the asset (back in 2001) according to Simon Doyle writing on the front page of todays Irish News, has left “the 140 pupil school caught in the middle of a row between government and landlord who are at odds over who owns the ground”.
The landlord is An Droichead, a cultural organisation which invests in a range of project, and provides all manner of language based activities. The school was was transferred in 2001 and was treated as a tenant to the larger organisation, but according to Doyle these payments stopped in 2008, in the expectation, on the community side, that the department would then continue to make payments on its behalf.
Dr Pol Deeds told the Irish News that the organisation is now in considerable debt to the bank because of “their mission to develop new facilities for the school and its community.”
The Department of Education issued this statement today:
Scoil an Droichid is a thriving Irish-medium school of 140 pupils, serving the South and East Belfast areas. The school opened in 1997 and public monies were used at the time to purchase the land on which the school is sited as well as accommodation for the school.
In 2001 the land was transferred to An Droichead Ltd free of charge. Following that transfer An Droichead Ltd sought rental payments. Despite claims to the contrary, the Department gave no assurances that rental income would be paid.
The Department understands that efforts are underway to resolve the issue between the respective parties. The Department will continue however to support the school and work to secure its future while discharging its responsibilities for the use of public funds.
To paraphrase Laurence Bradley, Ownership of assets is tempered by the extent to which you have control…