Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

Pressure grows on Caitriona Ruane as she won't give straight answers to MLAs

Northern Ireland Minister Caitriona Ruane

Education Minister Caitriona Ruane has come under fire yet again after she refused to disclose details on the future of our school estates to Assembly colleagues — despite having eight months to decide their fate.

At Stormont yesterday Ms Ruane faced scathing criticism after she refused to reveal which schools would receive much needed funding for capital works or how they were chosen.

The latest row comes just days after the Belfast Telegraph called on the Education Minister to resign from her post.

Earlier this month, it emerged plans to begin capital works projects at 69 schools across Northern Ireland had been stalled for months because the Department of Education was conducting a sustainability review.

Last week Ms Ruane was due to reveal the details of that review but the statement had to be rescheduled after she arrived too late to the Assembly chamber.

It was expected she would divulge the results yesterday but instead the Minister said she would write to the schools individually to inform them of her plans — even though many of them have now closed for the summer.

During the debate Ms Ruane said her hopes of building a further 10 schools depended on securing additional funding from Finance Minister Sammy Wilson when Assembly finances are reviewed in the so-called June monitoring round.

The review had estimated it would cost £500m to complete all the new builds and improvement works.

“If these additional funds are not allocated to the Department of Education for capital build projects then I fear that a delay on commencing these schools for some months is inevitable,” the Minister told the Assembly.

But when pressed in the chamber for further details about the criteria used to select schools, the Minister failed to provide any clarity. Education committee chairman Mervyn Storey asked the Minister to provide the specifics on how capital projects have been assessed and prioritised but she refused.

UUP education spokesman Basil McCrea also asked the Minister to outline how she “whittled” down projects in her review.

“What criteria will she use? When will she tell the House which school projects will proceed and which will not?” he said.

Ms Ruane replied that she had “already answered the question on criteria”.

But the SDLP’s Mary Bradley said: “Given that the Minister did not answer the committee chairperson’s questions, I ask again what criteria she used to make her decisions. Her poor statement will give no comfort to anyone in the school community. What about the schools that have been waiting for 17 or 18 years for a school building? When exactly will the schools be told what is happening?”

Ms Ruane still refused to be drawn, saying she had answered the criteria question.

Mr Storey said: “This is just indicative of the way this Minister operates — on the last day of term this Minister says she will write to these schools and we don’t even know if she is telling them she needs more information.

“We don’t know who they are, we don’t know if they are definitely allowed to move forward with their build programme. But more worryingly is that we do not know what criteria has been used to determine the eligibility of any of the schools on the investment delivery programme.”

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