A good news day

17 December 2010 No Comments by The Northern Standard

Last Friday’s exposition by Co Monaghan Vocational Education Committee of the design details of the new education campus project to be developed next year at the site of the former Monaghan Military Barracks in Knockaconny was an impressive event, its gravitas matching the momentous nature of a development that promises to deliver much to its location in terms of both stature and economic value. It was by any definition of the term a good news day, perhaps one of the most important in the recent history of a county that, as Bishop of Clogher Liam MacDaid remarked, has taken its share of knocks in recent times.

It was fitting that the attendance of key stakeholders and civic dignitaries should have been augmented by the presence of Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills Mary Coughlan. From the Minister and the Government’s point of view, explicit association with such a major and positive development is of rich value at a time when their stock in public estimation is so low because of the economic travails of the nation, and when a fateful General Election is pending for them. In this instance the Government and its representatives deserve whatever beneficial capital accrues to them from recognising at an early stage the potential of the initiative urged upon them by the VEC and its Chief Executive Martin O’Brien to allow the former Barracks site to be developed for education purposes. By facilitating the site acquisition, vouching the necessary funding in straitened times for significant capital investment and, most tellingly perhaps, allowing the project to be managed and moulded at local level by the VEC itself, the Government has delivered in a major way for the development of education in Co Monaghan. The important lobbying role played by both national and local Fianna Fáil representatives in this process is also worthy of being acknowledged and applauded.

From the VEC’s point of view, the Minister’s presence at Friday’s unveiling of the campus plans had an importance beyond the mere symbolic. It demonstrated that, as the Minister herself put it, that the project was no longer “…just a vision and a dream. We are now moving into the implementation of the project.” Her explicit public commitment to the delivery of the development, combined with the conformation on Friday that planning approval for it was now forthcoming from Monaghan Co Council, guarantees that the going to tender and construction phases can proceed in accordance with the projected timescale that should see the ‘dream’ a functioning reality by the commencement of the September, 2012 academic term. In the current economic environment all these signals and approvals are extremely significant and reassuring, allowing the project to move into the realm of realisation and a stage of development that in practical terms protects it from becoming waylaid by a change of government and consequent revision of Dept spending priorities.

The VEC might also have interpreted positively what the Minister didn’t say. No mention was made by her of her previously announced intention to restructure the administration of vocational education under a plan that makes provision for the amalgamation of the Monaghan and Cavan Committees at some future stage. While the omission might have been in deference to the mood of the moment, it did leave unanswered the legitimate question of what implications future amalgamation will have for the Monaghan education campus project. The positive interpretation is that there will be none in terms of actual delivery – if there was, even the most diplomatic of Ministers would have been foolish to let that go unsaid. However, there are surely implications further down the line in terms of how the campus is run, and the scope and nature of its service provision, if it comes within the remit of a two-county structure. A debate for another day perhaps, but surely an important one for the members of the VEC to have in the public realm in the near future.

However, the implications of future amalgamation are not likely to inhibit the Monaghan Committee and its CEO from discharging the leadership role entrusted to them by the Government with the energy and imagination necessary to bring the campus project into being on time and in accord with its ambitious brief. Perhaps the most convincing proof of the value this project offers for the future of Co Monaghan is that, even after the exhaustive outline of its facets presented at Friday’s launch, the scale of its potential remains hard to define.

Irish language medium education, for which a vibrant demand already exists in Monaghan, is set to flourish further by having both Gaelscoil Ultain and Coláiste Oiriall located on the campus. An expanded Institute of Further Education and Training will widen the range of local learning opportunities and provide employers with a burgeoning skills base into which to fruitfully tap. The performing arts will be conferred a potent resource in the new theatre space. And the realisation of the project will provide the basis for a new model of capital project implementation that will have ramifications nationwide for the future delivery of school building projects and the input of local communities in their provision.

But these features represent only the basic building blocks of a structure that can contribute in a very meaningful way to local economic revival. Exciting possibilities will open up for trade and industry in the Monaghan area and wider region that can remedy the current deficit in research and development resources at the disposal of employers here. One of the county’s premier business leaders, Ronnie Wilson of Monaghan Mushrooms, recently spoke of the vital importance of R & D being conducted in close liaison with the businesses that were its intended beneficiaries – the role the new education campus could play in evolving such a co-operative model is self-evident.

The project also offers a foundation for third-level linkages with institutions in Northern Ireland and elsewhere that can go a considerable way to addressing another significant deficit in learning provision in the area, enabling the equipping of homegrown Monaghan graduates with the skills and training to contribute meaningfully to the local economy. The modern imperative of life-long learning will for Co Monaghan people also be greatly facilitated by having this state-of-the-art resource in their vicinity.

In short, what the new education campus can deliver for Monaghan Town, the wider county and our Border region, will be confined only by the imagination and commitment of its stakeholders. Friday’s launch of the project provided powerful evidence that these will be broad boundaries indeed. A landmark development in education is underway in our midst; and Co Monaghan will watch its progress towards realisation with expectant good will and well-founded hope for the future.

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