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Unionist bid to scrap John O'Dowd's Irish-medium school fails

By Rebecca Black

An Ulster Unionist attempt to force Education Minister John O'Dowd to take back his decision to approve a new Irish-medium school for just 15 children has failed.

And a DUP move to scrap the department's statutory duty to encourage and facilitate the growth of Irish-medium education has also been shot down at Stormont.

Unionists and nationalists pointed the finger at each other during yesterday's heated Assembly debate as they accused one another of politicising the Irish language.

The debate was called after Ulster Unionist MLA Danny Kinahan submitted a motion voicing concern at Mr O'Dowd's decision to give the go-ahead to Coláiste Dhoire, a new Irish-medium secondary school in Dungiven, Co Derry.

Mr Kinahan said the minister had done so against the advice from his officials, two education boards, and the Education and Training Inspectorate.

But the debate almost never happened following a last minute intervention by Sinn Fein, which claimed the motion contained inaccuracies.

Mr Kinahan denied this, saying that the points were "a matter of opinion".

In proposing the motion he said he didn't know what was more shocking - the spending of £600,000 on this new school or going against official advice.

"We are talking about public money; ministers must demonstrate value for money," he told Assembly Members. DUP MLA Michelle McIlveen said Stormont's statutory duty to encourage the growth of Irish-medium education must be scrapped, because it allowed the minister to make decisions such as this.

But her bid to add this to the original motion failed.

Sinn Fein MLA Cathal Ó hOisín disputed that the Western and North Eastern Education Boards had advised against approval for the school.

He pointed out that 5,000 children attended Irish language schools, but with just one secondary school (Colaiste Feirste in Belfast), there was nowhere for them to go after P7.

Alliance MLA Trevor Lunn opposed the UUP motion and DUP amendment because he felt there was a need for a second Irish-medium secondary school.

Mr O'Dowd accused unionists of being against Colaiste Dhoire simply because it is an Irish language school, and using the cost element to hide behind.

Revealing that his own children attend Irish language schools, he said they had asked him that morning: 'Daddy, why are them men opposed to our school?'.

He added: "There has been discrimination in this chamber."

Factfile

There are currently 29 Irish-medium schools in Northern Ireland and a further 10 Irish language units attached to mainstream schools which teach around 4,633 children through the language. But there is just one Irish-medium secondary.

In addition to these, Gaelscoil na Daróige in Derry is an independent school teaching through the medium of the Irish language.

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