THE Minister for Education has seven days to come up with a good reason why embattled city school principal should be fired from her job and why a stay on her dismissal should not be allowed to remain in place.
As the Kilkenny City Vocational School continues to count the cost of unwanted national and local media coverage, the legal costs in the long running saga of Ms Cathy McSorley’s tenure as principal of the school soar. The costs, so far of the latest enquiry into the school cost €323,000 and that figure will rise.
It is expected that the final figure for all legal costs surrounding Ms McSorley’s eight years in office will be in seven figures. Money that many agree might have been better spent in tying to educate children rather than allowing the current impasse to fester. If Ms McSorley is successful in her attempt to overturn Minister Ruairi Quinn’s decision to fire her, she will receive her legal costs paving the way for a huge law suit by her against her employers and although she now faces the Department of Education in the High Court it is expected that the VEC will be a party to any future action by her which would be a financial disaster for administration of education locally. The stakes are extremely high..
In the latest twist, Ms McSorley went to the High Court last week, to restrain Minister Quinn from sacking her on grounds she was “unfit for office”. During the hearing which was not attended by the Department of Education or by the VEC, senior counsel for Ms McSorley, Ercus Stewart claimed that time and time again she has been forced, often in the court, to vindicate her decisions and good name and character over the past eight years.
Ms Justice Mary Laffoy granted Ms McSorley an interim injunction against the Minister and Co Kilkenny Vocational Education Committee restraining both from terminating her employment or stopping her salary and benefits from next Thursday, September 1, which is the official start of the new school year.
In an ex-parte (in the absence of the other side) application, the judge also granted her leave to bring judicial review proceedings challenging the ministerial order directing her dismissal and seeking declarations relating to her position and inquiries into her performance as principal.
Mr Stewart said that in 2006, then Minister for Education Mary Hanafin appointed Torlach O’Connor, a retired assistant chief inspector of the department, to carry out an inquiry into Ms McSorley’s performance. This was after the VEC had, unsuccessfully, asked the Department permission to get rid of her.
In the High Court last week, Mr Stewart said the terms of reference of the inquiry were broadly drafted to include various allegations made, many in the media, regarding the management of the school, which had been the subject of four previous investigations.
He said Ms Hanafin had specifically ordered an investigation into the organisation and administration of the school in the area of human resource management, the alleged failure of Ms McSorley to apply the school’s disciplinary policy and her alleged engagement in bullying staff members.
Mr Stewart claimed that not one of the allegations, nor others of payments by Ms McSorley to students to attend the school and of mismanagement of school funds, had been upheld in the interim report. “The inquiry did provide a long-awaited opportunity for Ms McSorley to be conclusively and finally exonerated in relation to painful and distressing allegations which had been left unresolved for many years,” Mr Stewart further claimed.
The order sent to Ms McSorley claimed that she had failed to satisfactorily carry out the duties of her office, and that the minister was of the opinion that she was unfit to hold such office,
The order was to come into effect from tomorrow, Thursday, September 1.