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Board of management 'knew nothing' about Christian Brothers' plan to sell part of school playing fields

The Christian Brothers deny acting unconscionably over the sale of part of the school playing grounds.

Clonkeen College
Clonkeen College
Image: Google Maps

THE BOARD OF management of a South Dublin secondary school were “kept in the dark” about plans by the Christian Brothers to sell part of its playing grounds to builders for €18m, the High Court has heard.

The board of management of Clonkeen College at Deansgrange Co Dublin have brought proceedings against the congregation of Christian Brothers, which set up the school and are its patrons, aimed at retaining the playing fields for as long as the school remains in operation.

The congregation has opposed the action, and denies the board’s claims the proposed sale to a developer will adversely affect the 520-pupil school.

Opening the case on Friday, James Dwyer SC appearing with Lucy Dwyer BL for the board said the case was “rather controversial” and had been brought so the playing fields would remain available for the school and its students.

Counsel said the board “knew nothing” and was “kept in dark” over the €18m deal where local builder Patrick Durkan Snr is to acquire a very significant portion of the playing fields, some 7 acres, from the congregation.

The board was only informed of the deal for commercial reasons in May 2017 and was told that the sale was going ahead, counsel said. “A PR company was paid €10,000 to break the news to the board about the sale,” counsel added.

Breach of agreement

In the years prior to the deal the school board had raised funds to improve all its facilities including the playing fields, which he said both the congregation and the Edmund Rice Schools Trust ERST, which in 2008 became the patron of the school premises, knew about and consented to.

Over €450,000 was spent on improving the playing fields. Counsel said that money had been “wasted” as under the proposed sale those facilities would be “bulldozed” and “torn up.”

Counsel said under the proposed sale agreement the school will receive €1.3m and retain one small area of the existing playing fields for use as a playing pitch, which it does not believe is suitable for the school’s needs.

The board, counsel said, also says the proposed plans will also adversely affect its special education needs unit.

In its action the board, which has managed the school since 1998, claims that the sale breaches a 2006 agreement with the congregation.

The board claims it was agreed the playing fields would remain available for the school and another part of the lands, known as the extended monastery site, would be sold for development.

As a result the 2017 sale agreement board members seek several declarations including that the students of Clonkeen College are entitled to the continued use of the playing fields as long as the school remains in operation.

Opposition

The board also seeks a declarations that the only portion of the lands that the congregation are entitled to develop is the monastery site, and that the congregation is not allowed resile from the terms of the 2006 agreement.

The board further seeks orders from the court restraining the disposal of the playing fields and that the 2006 agreement be specifically performed.

The application is opposed by the congregation and the plaintiff’s claims are denied.

In its defence the congregation, represented by Peter Bland SC and Yvonne McNamara BL, say the plaintiffs have no interest in the lands that are the subject of the proceedings.

The congregation denies acting unconscionably.

The congregation also denies the board has any valid objection to the sale of the lands, and argue the 2006 agreement is void and of no effect.

It has entered into binding contracts to sell the lands and it intends to make significant charitable donations from the sale.

The case, before Ms Justice Carmel Stewart, continues.

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Aodhan O Faolain

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