Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Parishes keep the lights on in ‘crippled’ schools

Fr Gerry Corcoran, Parish Priest of the Virgin Mary and Holy Spirit churches in Ballymun, Dublin outside Virgin Mary GNS.Cash-strapped parishes are being forced to bail out struggling schools to the tune of thousands of euro amid threats that gas and electricity will be cut off.

Schools around the country are threatened with losing heating and lighting unless they pay energy companies’ hefty daily charges during summer holidays, despite the schools being empty and no heating or gas being used.

The cost runs in to thousands of euro over the summer holidays and many schools are being “crippled” by the charges as the Government continues to cut budgets.

Fr Tom Deenihan, from Cork and Ross Diocese told The Irish Catholic “there are now a number of schools in severe financial difficulty”.

“Parishes are now subsidising schools, and several have taken out loans to do so,” he said.

Similarly, four schools in Ballymun, Dublin are being faced with a utilities bill of almost €2000 for the summer months of July and August when the schools will be closed.

Fr Gerry Corcoran, Parish Priest of the Virgin Mary and Holy Spirit churches in Ballymun, said the standing charge is “crippling” for schools.

“Schools are closed for a significant period of the year and yet our standing charge for just one service provider is about €1,900 for July and August when there are no children in our schools,” he told The Irish Catholic.

“We just don’t have the funding to meet the costs of those utilities bills,” he said. 

“For two schools we have had to stop paying by direct debit and the providers have become more aggressive in trying to get their money, once or twice threatening to cut us off,” he said.
The four schools, all in Ballymun, are Virgin Mary BNS, Virgin Mary GNS, Holy Spirit BNS and Holy Spirit GNS.

Fr Corcoran has now called on the Government to reconsider cuts to school funding given the pressure schools are already under as a result of such charges.

“There is now a need for the Government to give serious consideration to making some sort of extra provision in capitation for major costs like heating and lighting which are an essential part of any school,” he said.

“At the end of the day, the school has to be heated. The children have to be in a warm environment that is conducive to them learning,” Fr Corcoran insisted.

He warned that schools all around the country are similarly experiencing difficulties paying utilities bills.

“It’s not just us in this situation, its affecting schools everywhere,” he said.

According to Eileen Flynn, General Secretary of the Catholic Primary School Management Association (CPSMA), energy suppliers take no account of the special position of schools. 

“The problem is that schools are being treated like businesses, which they are not,” she said.

“The standing charge is an issue for all schools. In some cases it amounts to a third of the school’s utilities bill,” Ms Flynn said.

She said that “it affects schools in a very negative way. Many schools are trying to go green and be energy efficient by switching from oil to gas and are then being punished by the standing charge”.

“With many schools already in deficit, they will struggle to pay the standing charge and will be forced to find the money from somewhere else. It’s an extraordinary pressure on schools,” she said.

Many schools are now turning to parishes for financial assistance in paying such costs. 

A spokesperson for the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) said “energy wires and piping infrastructure needs to be in place and be paid for all year round, irrespective of whether energy consumption is low or high”.

He said the regulator encouraged schools “to shop around for the best tariff deal from suppliers, to take advantage of the strong competition that exists”.

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