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Irish language school in legal action against minister after building plan put on hold

By Rebecca Black

Published 14/10/2016

Education Minister Peter Weir
Education Minister Peter Weir

An Irish language school is set to take court action against the DUP Education Minister for shelving a plan to build new accommodation.

Gaelcholaiste Dhoire in Dungiven opened in 2015 with just 15 pupils, but since then its enrolment has increased to 48.

The school wants specialist accommodation on a council site close to Dungiven Castle, where it is based.

The news emerged following an Assembly Question asked by the Sinn Fein MLA Caoimhe Archibald.

She asked Education Minister Peter Weir, whose department is progressing plans for additional classrooms to meet the critical accommodation needs of Gaelcholaiste Dhoire.

Mr Weir responded by saying he asked his department officials to "explore alternative options", because he did not believe the proposal "represented best value for public money".

"Initial plans for the provision of specialist accommodation on the Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council site, adjacent to Dungiven Castle, have been put on hold as I have asked officials to explore alternative options for provision of accommodation for the school," Mr Weir said in his written answer.

"This action has been taken as I don't believe that the current option represents best value for public money."

Mr Weir went on to reveal that the matter was now subject to a possible judicial review.

"The department has received a pre-proceedings letter regarding potential judicial review proceedings and I would not therefore propose to make further comment," he added.

It is understood that a final decision has not been made on the matter while further options are being explored.

St Patrick's College, located less than half a mile away, has fewer pupils than its approved enrolment.

Gaelcholaiste Dhoire currently shares specialist accommodation with St Patrick's College including home Economics, science and IT classrooms.

Gaelcholaiste Dhoire is only the second publicly funded Irish language post-primary school in Northern Ireland, along with Coleiste Feirste in Belfast.

Gaelcholaiste Dhoire opened in 2015 with 15 pupils, all in Year 8, and the equivalent of 3.6 teachers. Some 14 of the 15 were Catholic, with one describing themselves as "other" according to the department's website.

The Belfast Telegraph revealed in 2014 that former Education Minister John O'Dowd had disregarded advice when he approved the creation of the school.

Ulster Unionist MLA Danny Kinahan said at the time: "The Western Education and Library Board, the Education and Training Inspectorate and the Department of Education itself have all said that the proposal is neither affordable nor viable."

Unionists criticised Mr O'Dowd's decision to open the school at a time when his department was faced with making cuts of £198m to its budget.

However, Mr O'Dowd stood by his decision, and said he made it following careful consideration.

Belfast Telegraph

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