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Pupil launches legal action against education minister John O'Dowd over closure of east Belfast school

By Alan Erwin

Published 01/07/2015

John O’Dowd
John O’Dowd

A pupil has commenced legal action against Education Minister John O'Dowd for approving the closure of an east Belfast school.

Lawyers representing the child want the High Court to overturn his decision to shut down Avoniel Primary.

With the school set to close on August 31 under current plans, a judge is set to hear the case early next month.

Mr O'Dowd announced in May that he was approving the closure of Avoniel Primary and increasing admissions and enrolment at nearby Elmgrove Primary.

At the time he said the proposals were the first phase in plans to reshape controlled primary provision in east Belfast.

But parents of pupils at Avoniel reacted with anger to the decision, claiming they have been left with little time to find a new school by September.

Now one child at the school with special educational needs is seeking a judicial review.

Lawyers representing the pupil, who cannot be identified, contend that the Minister's decision should be quashed because a prior consultation process by the Belfast Education and Library Board was allegedly not properly or fairly conducted.

According to their case the parents believe that when this exercise was carried out, back in 2014, the Board's proposals were already at an advanced stage.

An injunction is also being sought to prevent the education authority from implementing the Minister's decision to close the school before the legal action is determined.

The case was mentioned in front of Mr Justice Treacy on Tuesday.

He will now determine whether the case should advance to a full hearing in four weeks time.

A lawyer for the pupil mounting the legal challenge insisted the case has major significance within the east Belfast community.

Brian Moss of Worthingtons Solicitors added: "Local political representatives had raised concerns about the closure of the school during the consultation which was carried out by the Belfast Education and Library Board.

"It is now for the Court to decide whether the applicant should be given the right to challenge the Minister's decision through a judicial review."

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