Micheál Martin: Cork Life Centre an oasis for young people

The director of Cork Life Centre told The Echo he is now “very confident” for the centre’s future.
Micheál Martin: Cork Life Centre an oasis for young people

Taoiseach Micheál Martin outside the Cork Life Centre, which he officially opened 21 years ago. Picture: Jason Kelleher.

FOLLOWING a meeting with the Taoiseach, the director of Cork Life Centre is now “very confident” for the centre’s future.

The confidence boost comes after years of uncertainty about the sustainability of the northside alternative education facility, and two years of often-stormy negotiations with the Department of Education.

Only last month the centre’s director, Don O’Leary, had warned that the Life Centre was in a “most precarious” position, having lost eight experienced teachers over the summer.

Now, after a visit to the centre by Taoiseach Micheál Martin on Friday afternoon, Mr O’Leary said he believes the Life Centre is very close to securing its sustainability.

“We are so close, and I am very confident with the way negotiations are going, and with the good faith shown by the Taoiseach, that we will work it out, and the Life Centre is going to be sustainable,” Mr O’Leary told The Echo.

The Life Centre, which is based in Sunday’s Well, is an alternative education facility which every year offers one-to-one tuition up to Leaving Certificate to 55 young people for whom, for one reason or another, mainstream education has not worked.

Friday is a half day in the Life Centre, with classes ending at 1pm, but yesterday the students stayed back so they could meet the Taoiseach and impress upon him the importance of a place which has changed, and saved, lives.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin visited the Cork Life Centre on Friday afternoon. Left to right: Colm Burke TD, Councillor Tony Fitzgerald, Don O'Leary, director of Cork Life Centre, Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Councillor Mary Rose Desmond, Rachel Lucey, deputy director of Cork Life Centre, and Pádraig O'Sullivan TD. Picture: Donal O'Keeffe.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin visited the Cork Life Centre on Friday afternoon. Left to right: Colm Burke TD, Councillor Tony Fitzgerald, Don O'Leary, director of Cork Life Centre, Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Councillor Mary Rose Desmond, Rachel Lucey, deputy director of Cork Life Centre, and Pádraig O'Sullivan TD. Picture: Donal O'Keeffe.

Mr Martin toured the Life Centre, speaking with each of the students, enjoying conversations sometimes deep and sometimes light-hearted, chatting also with parents and teachers. He recorded an in-depth interview with Life Centre students for their upcoming Teachables podcast, and was presented with a lamp and a breadboard made by students in the woodwork class.

Speaking with The Echo after his visit, the Taoiseach said the Life Centre was a very happy environment, and its students were very comfortable there.

He added that while there remained some technical details to be finalised between the centre and the Department of Education, he believed negotiations, which had resumed last month, were going very well.

“It’s envisaged now that this would be run as a pilot scheme within the Department of Education, whereby both the full-time and existing [staff] would be sorted and the co-operation hours would still be there, that had been allocated already in previous years, so that we would have a much stronger structure for the future, which would give young teachers coming in here and teachers working here greater security of tenure, which they didn’t have up to now,” said Mr Martin.

“It’s good news all around, and I think it’s very positive all around.

"I would pay tribute to [Education Minister] Norma Foley, who has been working in relation to the Life Centre to get this resolved, for the long term, because I think this centre, since it was opened in 2001, and I was minister for health at the time when I opened it, it’s provided an oasis for many, many young people in the city, and also an opportunity to learn in a different setting that would suit their needs at a particular time, and has enabled many of them to gain access to education and qualifications, and then to do well in life.”

Mr Martin said he believed that with the Life Centre serving as a pilot within the department, there was potential that other centres might emulate it.

Mr O’Leary said that he was grateful to local TDs and councillors, singling out the Taoiseach, “and particularly Páidí O’Sullivan”, both of whom he said had approached the Life Centre and had offered to help.

TD Pádraig O’Sullivan said he had tried to keep the Life Centre to the fore of the education minister’s thinking, and he was conscious that negotiations are ongoing between the centre and the department.

“I am positive that issues around sustainable salaries for teachers in the Life Centre will be resolved soon, and soon can’t come quickly enough for Don and his deputy Rachel,” said Mr O’Sullivan.

Cork Life Centre, which was originally known as the Sunday’s Well Life Centre, was established in 2000 by Nash’s Boreen native Brother Gary O’Shea, who passed away in 2020.

Mr O’Leary, who is living with a diagnosis of terminal cancer, said he had particularly missed his old friend Br Gary yesterday, as he knew he would have been proud of the Life Centre’s students on the day the Taoiseach visited.

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