00:00 Saturday 11 February 2012  Written by Brian Moore

Taoiseach angrily greeted by protesters in Bantry More than 700 people gather to vent their anger

MORE than 700 protesters gathered at the Westlodge Hotel to await the arrival of Taoiseach Enda Kenny in Bantry late last Friday night.

The protesters, many carrying placards demonstrating against the new household charges, septic tank charges and the proposals to cut teacher numbers at small rural schools, angrily greeted the Taoiseach, who arrived at the hotel to take part in the annual Fine Gael (FG) dinner. The dinner was held also to honour retired Fine Gael deputies, PJ Sheehan and Jim O'Keeffe.

Many children from across West Cork joined their parents and teachers as they lined the road waiting for the Taoiseach to arrive. One of the organisers of the demonstration last Friday night, Cappabue National School principal Norma Healy said she was delighted with the turn-out: 'I would like to thank all those who travelled so far to bring our protest to the Taoiseach in Bantry. The amount of people who have come out tonight, on such a cold night, only shows how concerned parents feel about the future of their children's education.

'We set out to get our concerns across to the Taoiseach in a dignified way and we have succeeded in doing just that. These cuts will tear at the heart of rural communities and many children who are now receiving special needs education will suffer.

'We have been in contact with other teachers and parents across the country. At the moment, West Cork is at the forefront in the fight to Save Our Small Schools (SOSS), but we will take our protest to the gates of Leinster House, if we have to, in what we know will be a national demonstration,' Norma Healy said.

The protesters are also demanding that local TDs take seriously and acknowledge the concerns of their communities and fight in the Dáil to ensure these cuts will not take place. 'Our TDs need to listen to what the people are saying and bring our concerns to the Taoiseach and the Minister for Education,' Norma Healy concluded.

Disappointed

Local TD Noel Harrington who was attending the party dinner at the Westlodge said that he was disappointed that the protest took place at what was a private function. 'The protesters have a right to their demonstration, but there is a time and a place and this was a private function.

'We have to remember that no teachers will lose their jobs over this but there must be responsible debate and, while I agree that one size does not fit all in this situation, amalgamation of some schools may be the best thing for the future education of the children and that's what's important here,' Mr Harrington said

Mother of two children attending Carrigboy National School in Durrus, Tara Chamberlain, was determined to join the protesters outside the Westlodge Hotel on Friday night: 'We wanted to show the Taoiseach our frustration at his government's planned cuts to our small rural schools. I am very concerned that our school in Durrus will not be able to serve the children of this area if the two other schools (Kilcrohane and Rusnacahara national schools) are forced to close.

'It's the children that are going to suffer if these cuts are put in place. We pay our taxes like everybody else and we should be able to provide a good education for our children, but what it all boils down to is that our children will suffer if the Minister of Education gets his way,' Ms Chamberlain said.

Written letters

Many children from Kilcrohane National School were also on hand as the Taoiseach arrived in Bantry. 'All the children have written letters to the Taoiseach telling him just how important their school is to them and to their community. We handed these, along with letters from other community organisations and groups, to members of the Taoiseach's staff on Friday night and we hope that he will see these along with a petition, which was signed in the area,' parent Michael Nash said.

Another parent facing an uncertain future for the education of her children, Claire O'Mahony, also from Kilcrohane, believes that the cuts do not make sense especially for people with more than one child attending a rural school. 'I have one child here at the moment in Kilcrohane who I collect at 2pm.

'I have another two children coming up who will be attending the school. If the school is closed it means that I will have to collect two of my children at 2pm in Durrus and then collect another one at 3pm.

'That means, not only would I have to travel almost twenty miles to get my children to and from school each day, I would also have to sit in the car for an hour waiting for one of them to finish school. This will happen right across the community,' Claire O'Mahony said.

Asked to comment on the protest and concerns of the parents and teachers in small rural schools, a spokesperson for the Taoiseach's Department said: 'The Taoiseach knows the difficult choices facing the country are very hard on people, and he always acknowledges people's right to protest and respects that right.'

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