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DUP hits out at O'Dowd 'obsession' with Irish schools

By Rebecca Black

Published 16/03/2016

DUP MLA Peter Weir
DUP MLA Peter Weir

Education Minister John O'Dowd is "obsessed" with Irish language schools, a unionist critic has claimed.

DUP MLA Peter Weir made the claim following a funding announcement for primaries.

Mr Weir welcomed a £40m investment in 10 schools across Northern Ireland, but claimed the announcement was tarnished by a "lack of equality".

Mr O'Dowd said the schools would benefit from new state-of-the-art facilities and that the funding would also provide a welcome boost to the construction industry as the projects come to fruition.

Those receiving funding include a new primary school in Islandmagee created from the amalgamation of Mullaghdubh PS and Kilcoan PS, and two Irish language primary schools - Gaelscoil Aodha Rua in Dungannon and Gaelscoil Eanna in Newtownabbey.

Mr Weir said the funding was good news for education and congratulated those who had benefited.

However, the education committee chair also raised a number of questions about "equality in funding".

"The announcement is tarnished, not simply by those schools that have inevitably failed to gain a new build in this tranche, but with a concern of a lack of equality in funding in this announcement," he said.

"In including Irish-medium schools as 20% of the new builds announced, the minister has demonstrated a continued obsession with Irish-medium new builds at the expense of other sectors.

"Despite representing only 1.3% of the school population, Irish-medium schools have benefited from eight out of 65 new build announcements in this mandate.

"This is greater than either the voluntary grammar school sector or the integrated sector, with 11 and five times the numbers of pupils respectively, and a third of the new build announcements for either controlled or maintained schools with 30 and 27 times the number of pupils.

"It is perhaps unsurprising that the minister on his parting gesture on capital funding has chosen to yet again favour such a small sector.

"Apart from the few schools that benefit today, it will leave so many others with a sense of continuing frustration."

Last week Mr O'Dowd officially opened Colaiste Dhoire in Dungiven, a new Irish language secondary school for just 15 pupils. However, Colaiste Dhoire will more than double its enrolment in September, with 39 students expressing an interest in attending.

Thirty-three pupils have registered the school as their first choice and a further six have picked the school as their second choice.

Colaiste Dhoire is only the second State-funded Irish-medium secondary school in Northern Ireland, following in the steps of the first, which is located in Belfast.

Mr O'Dowd said: "All schools were evaluated and selected on the same criteria, as outlined in my statement to the Assembly today.

"There is no lack of equality or clarity in the decision-making process."

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