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Catholic students 'unlawfully denied' single-sex, non-grammar education by planned amalgamation of Belfast schools, court hears

By Alan Erwin

Published 14/11/2016

Little Flower Girls’ School in north Belfast
Little Flower Girls’ School in north Belfast

Catholic students in north Belfast are being unlawfully denied the opportunity of single-sex, non-grammar education by the planned amalgamation of two schools, the High Court has heard.

Lawyers for the parent of a pupil at Little Flower Girls' School claimed former Education Minister John O'Dowd's approval of a merger with St Patrick's College Bearnageeha amounts to discrimination.

They are seeking to quash decisions to close both and create a new co-educational school, opening in September 2017.

Judgment was reserved in the application for leave to seek a judicial review.

Mr O'Dowd approved the amalgamation in March this year following a proposal from the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools.

But the parents of children at Little Flower have been fighting the plans, with a petition gaining more than 1,600 signatures.

One of them has now launched a High Court challenge in a bid to have the decision quashed.

Her lawyers argued that it was in breach of a duty under the Northern Ireland Act 1998 to promote equality of opportunity.

"The Minister has removed the opportunity for students to go to a single-sex, non-selective Catholic school (in north Belfast)," barrister Denise Kiley said.

"The complaint is Protestant or other non-Catholic counterparts do have that opportunity."

Mr Justice Maguire also heard claims the decision was irrational and wrongly took irrelevant considerations into account.

It was contended that departmental correspondence tried to devalue letters of objection from Ms Kiley's client.

"The complaint is the reference to this lady, a parent who is the author of these two letters, was somehow instrumental in lodging the petition," she told the court.

"We say it makes that lady out to be some sort of a troublemaker who has gathered these petition signatures."

Following submissions the judge confirmed he would deliver his verdict at a later date.

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