Belfast Telegraph

O'Dowd hits out at inequality claim

Stormont's Education Minister has challenged Assembly members to name a school or sector that he has discriminated against.

John O'Dowd said claims he had treated some schools "more equally than others" did not stack up.

Mr O'Dowd had been pressed by MLAs on a recent judicial decision that had criticised elements of his department's policy in regard to area planning and, specifically, the integrated sector.

Last month Mr Justice Treacy identified a degree of inflexibility in the planning model that inhibited the active promotion of integrated education.

Justice Treacy was ruling in Belfast High Court on a judicial review taken by Drumragh Integrated College in Omagh relating to a decision by Mr O'Dowd in 2012 to turn down a development proposal to expand numbers.

The minister had agreed to review and retake his decision prior to the case being put before the judge but the hearing proceeded on the basis that the school had raised an issue of public interest in regard to the departmental approach to such matters.

The issue was today discussed in the Assembly chamber during a debate and at ministerial question time.

When Ulster Unionist Danny Kinahan questioned whether the department had adopted an Orwellian-esque policy of all sectors are equal but some "are more equal than others", Mr O'Dowd responded in strong terms.

The minister replied: "Name the sector, name the school where I have acted inappropriately, name where I have been involved in discrimination against a school? Name them. Because these broad stroke statements do not stack up.

"Which sector is being treated more equally than others?"

He claimed one case where he had acted against advice was when he decided not to close Dundonald High School in east Belfast.

"I could have closed Dundonald and I could have defended that in any court in the land," he said.

The minister added: "If any member of this chamber wishes to present, either in this chamber or outside the chamber, where I have treated another school in a discriminatory manner, then name it."

The minister acknowledged the judge had asked questions which required answers.

"And I will answer them in due course," he added.

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