Belfast Telegraph

Fight to save St Mary's teacher training college pitches up at Stormont

By David Young

The battle to save St Mary's University College reached the floor of Stormont as MLAs debated a Sinn Fein motion calling on DEL Minister Stephen Farry to remove a threat to the century-old college's funding.

St Mary's, the west Belfast institution which delivers teacher training for the Catholic school sector, is facing the loss of £1.1m in additional State support because of serious budget pressures at the Department for Employment and Learning. A similar cut is also facing Stranmillis University College.

Sinn Fein's Jennifer McCann set the tone for the debate, saying that unless the minister reversed his decision and restored full funding to St Mary's, the college would be financially unviable and would have to close.

Sinn Fein and SDLP MLAs queued up to praise St Mary's contribution to the economy of west Belfast, to the resurgence of the Irish language sector, to sustainability of the Catholic education sector as a whole and to the morale of one of the most economically deprived areas of Northern Ireland.

Several MLAs questioned Mr Farry's motives, claiming that he was mounting an ideologically-motivated attack on Catholic education. "The minister is acting out of party political ideology, not higher education policy," the SDLP's Pat Ramsey claimed.

"Alliance want to steamroller through forced integration," Sinn Fein's Pat Sheehan added. Party colleague Alex Maskey backed his stance.

Mr Farry rejected the allegations of party political motivation. He said the key issue was the reform of teacher training, not the future of any particular institution.

"I want to see the best teacher training provsion in Northern Ireland," he said.

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