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MP fury as 40-pupil Irish school replaces college axed over low numbers

By Rebecca Black

Published 19/12/2015

Education Minister John O'Dowd
Education Minister John O'Dowd

A Decision by Education Minister John O'Dowd to locate an Irish school with just 40 children on the site of a 140-pupil school that he closed due to low numbers has sparked fury.

Bunscoil an Traonaigh is to be relocated to the site of Lisnaskea High School, just two years after the controlled secondary was shut.

In 2013 when Mr O'Dowd announced the closure of Lisnaskea High, to be amalgamated with Devenish College, he said the school "is no longer sustainable", adding it was "too late to reverse years of falling numbers".

Bunscoil an Traonaigh was established in 2004 and moved to its current site at Drumbrughas North, Lisnaskea, in 2007. It currently has 40 pupils.

It was placed into formal intervention in 2010 but has since exited with the Education Training Inspectorate (ETI) now rating standards as good.

Mr O'Dowd announced earlier this week it will be relocated to the Lisnaskea High site.

"The current premises occupied by Bunscoil an Traonaigh is not suitable for the permanent location of the school and this new site at the former Lisnaksea High School will allow the school to grow and develop," he said.

Bunscoil an Traonaigh will share the site with victims' group the South East Fermanagh Foundation (SEFF).

Fermanagh and South Tyrone MP Tom Elliott questioned the decision. "I am concerned that the Sinn Fein Education Minister has once again gone on a solo run and announced the opening of an Irish language school with very limited numbers of pupils," he said. "He did the same this time last year when he gave the go-ahead for an Irish language school in Dungiven with an intake of 14 pupils."

Mr Elliott demanded to know why the public weren't given a say before the decision was taken.

"This time he has given the go-ahead for an Irish language school in Lisnaskea without any apparent consultation with the local community," he said.

"Lisnaskea High School was closed by John O'Dowd in 2013. His justification at the time was diminishing numbers, yet when the consultation was ongoing there were proposals for a shared education project and the school had well over three times the number of pupils that this new school will have."

Mr Elliott claimed schools were not being treated equally, with a number under pressure due to numbers.

"Even maintained schools in the area are under huge pressure from the minister with proposals to close a number of these schools, including St Eugene's in Roslea and many more," he said. "All these schools have significant numbers compared to the 40 that this new proposal will cater for.

"It looks like some pupils are more equal than others and that Sinn Fein ideology trumps the needs of all our young people.

"If he has consulted, I would like to know with whom.

"The different approaches adopted by the minister could not be more stark. On the basis of sustainability and value for money, how can John O'Dowd stand over these decisions?"

But Mr O'Dowd hit back at the Ulster Unionist MP.

"Tom Elliott should check his facts and know his constituency better. Bunscoil an Traonaigh has been in operation for over 10 years and has been growing, which is why it needs new premises," he said.

"I have a statutory duty to encourage and facilitate Irish-medium education and this is a duty I take seriously. Bunscoil an Traonaigh is moving onto a part of the old Lisnaskea High School site with the majority of the site being used by the SEFF.

"The decision to close Lisnaskea High was not taken lightly and was taken with the long-term interests of local children in the area in line with the sustainable schools policy."

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