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Fight to save Shankill school goes on, after board votes for its closure

By Rebecca Black

Parents have vowed to continue their campaign to keep a Belfast primary school open.

The Belfast Education and Library Board (BELB) decided yesterday by just one vote to shut Malvern Primary on the Shankill Road.

It is understood that councillors from all the political parties represented on the BELB - including Sinn Fein - voted to keep it open. But the vote was lost by five to four.

The board will now send a development proposal to the Department of Education advocating the closure of the school. The final decision rests with Education Minister John O'Dowd.

The school currently has 103 children on its rolls. A petition to keep it open has been signed by thousands of supporters.

A crowd of staff, parents and friends of the school demonstrated outside the BELB headquarters yesterday as the decision was made.

Neil Irvine from the GMB union, who took part in the protest, said they were devastated.

However, he warned they would continue their campaign to keep the school open.

"The four councillors on the board voted to keep it open, but the other five voted to close it," he said.

"It was a narrow vote. They simply haven't taken into account all the factors in this case that were put forward - the area, the deprivation and the regeneration of the Shankill. Closing the primary school when the area is going through regeneration doesn't seem to be in the best interests of the area.

"But this is just a hurdle, the fight will continue. We will lobby the Department of Education and the minister, John O'Dowd."

DUP councillor Brian Kingston, who sits on BELB, said he was "hugely disappointed" by the vote.

He also vowed the campaign to keep it open will continue.

"We will continue to fight for investment and increased support for Shankill schools," he said.

Reverend Jack Lamb of Townsend Presbyterian Church is among the supporters of the school. He said it had played an important role at the heart of the community on the lower Shankill as it was the only primary school in the area.

"It's a special place; teachers who come here tend to stay," he added.

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