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Legal bid to relocate Irish language primary school from 115-year-old west Belfast building clears first stage

By Alan Erwin

Published 16/11/2016

The school, with an enrolment of around 60 pupils, has been at its current site on the Falls Road since 2004.
The school, with an enrolment of around 60 pupils, has been at its current site on the Falls Road since 2004.

A legal bid to relocate an Irish language primary school from its current 115-year-old building in west Belfast has cleared the first stage at the High Court.

The mother of a pupil at Gaelscoil an Lonnain was granted leave to seek a judicial review of Education Minister Peter Weir's decision to turn down the proposed move.

Her lawyers claim the Democratic Unionist MLA acted irrationally and failed to comply with a statutory duty to develop Irish medium education.

She is seeking a court order for Mr Weir to either authorise the relocation or review his decision.

The school, with an enrolment of around 60 pupils, has been at its current site on the Falls Road since 2004.

But according to the mother's lawyers those premises are now cramped, restrictive and no longer fit for purpose.

In December 2015 the Board of Governors of Gaelscoil an Lonnain's Board of Governors submitted a relocation proposal to the Department of Education.

Its plan was to move to the former site of St Comgall's School.

Support was said to have been secured from the Education Authority, the Education and Training Authority and Comhairle na Gaelscolaiochta - the statutory body set up to advise the Department on compliance with the obligation to facilitate the development Irish language education.

The proposal was turned down in June, however, with issues about the school's sustainability understood to have featured in the decision.

Counsel representing the parent taking the case claim the decision unlawfully took into account irrelevant factors.

It was also alleged that the Minister failed to consider increasing demand for Irish medium education in the area.

Papers lodged in the case further contend that the decision breached the European Convention of Human Rights by not prioritise the welfare of the child.

Leave to apply for a judicial review was granted today without full argument.

The case will now proceed to a substantive hearing early next year.

Outside court a lawyer representing the parent's lawyer welcomed the outcome.

Joanne McGurk, of Michael Flanigan Solicitors, said: We are pleased that today the court has granted leave in this application.

"We will continue with the challenge and hope to secure the result that will allow the relocation to proceed."

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