Thursday, December 15, 2022

Staff, family, pupils and past pupils highlight the potential closure of the Kildavin Childcare facility in Spellman Hall, Kildavin last August Photo:

KILDAVIN Childcare have dropped their legal action against a parish priest and the bishop of Kildare and Leighlin over access to Spellman Hall in Kildavin.

Parties representing Kildavin Childcare, Fr Pat Hughes and Bishop Denis Nulty had entered mediation in October. Kildavin Childcare say there was no agreement in mediation and with a ‘heavy heart’ they decided to seek alternative accommodation for their childcare services, which cater for more than 30 families.

Kildavin Childcare had initiated legal action in the summer after they claimed they were locked out of the hall, with the dispute centring on electrical works that were required at the premises.

In their first public comment about the controversy, the Kildavin Parish and Hall Committee say their ‘concern at all times was for the safety and wellbeing of the (hall) users’. They highlighted an electrical engineer’s report, which described wiring in the hall as ‘decrepit and dangerous’. They maintain that there was agreement in mediation, but it was not ‘executed’.

In a statement, they claimed they had not evicted any hall user or served an eviction notice.

‘The hall committee believes lives are always more important than livelihoods. It would also be wrong of us not to acknowledge we had concerns about the hall or part of the hall being lost to the parish, to whom it was bequeathed several decades ago.’

The parish and hall committee also provided a timeline of events over the last six months, which is disputed by Kildavin Childcare. The parish and hall committee said a sub-committee was set up in June to improve ‘engagement with hall users’, claiming there was an incident where locks were changed on internal and external doors without consultation.

The hall committee were advised by Kildavin Childcare that the wiring in the hall was in poor condition and that an electrician wouldn’t certify it. A second electrician, invited by the hall committee, corroborated this view in early July. The hall was subsequently closed and the external locks changed to ensure ‘there was no inadvertent access by any hall user to an unsafe building’.

Kildavin Childcare, who have claimed they first approached the parish in 2021 about getting works done, were notified of this decision a day later and then proceeded with legal action.

‘The courts were asked to grant them immediate and unfettered access to the hall, and they also sought to seek a 21-year lease arrangement with the parish, which would give them exclusive use of the hall or part of the hall,’ said the parish and hall committee statement.

Judge Mary Morrissey granted a temporary injunction on 29 July permitting Kildavin Childcare access, with a list of works to be furnished.

The parish and hall committee stated that getting the necessary reports was difficult due to ‘some unhelpful public comment’, but say an electrician inspected the hall on 30 July and a notice of hazard was issued.

‘In all, three electricians and an electrical engineer examined the hall. All four independently agreed that the hall was in a dangerous condition and posed a real threat of serious injury or death to hall users.’

Following a strongly-worded recommendation by Judge Morrissey in September, the parties entered mediation.

The hall and parish committee said: ‘Both sides agreed a way forward for the reopening of the hall, after it was made safe, and the hall user could return to the hall. It was a condition of the mediation that any terms agreed would remain confidential.’

The parish and hall committee say they subsequently learned the ‘agreement would not be executed’ and Kildavin Childcare ‘abandoned’ their legal action formally in the circuit court in Carlow last month.

The statement says the tendering process for the rewiring of the entire hall is underway and it is hoped that the hall will be back in use next summer.

The parish and hall committee thanked people for their support. ‘We would also like to thank all the hall users who have been disadvantaged – some quite significantly – by the closure, but who accepted that concern for the safety of users is of the utmost priority.’

In a statement, Kildavin Childcare say they are ‘disappointed but not surprised’ by what the parish and the hall committee say.

‘Kildavin Childcare Facility have always put the children first and will continue to do so,’ said the group.

‘We would point to the fact that many of their claims to The Nationalist run counter to their affidavits submitted under oath to the court. No agreement was reached at mediation, and under such circumstances we are prevented by law from commenting on what was discussed. We understand that the defendants are bound by the same rules. However, we are happy for the defendants to provide to The Nationalist the terms they offered, if they so wish.

‘We offered numerous times to pay for works in Spellman Hall. We even employed someone who was stopped on his first day. With a heavy heart we came to the decision to move what was left of our property from the building. We hope to have a new facility open in the village for the next academic year.’

At Carlow Circuit Court last month the injunction order was set aside as proceedings concluded. Costs were awarded to the defendants, Fr Hughes and Bishop Nulty. However, a permanent stay was put on the costs, except if an appeal was lodged or a further application was made by Kildavin Childcare.

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