Belfast Telegraph

Speaker probes DUP attacks on Ruane

Outspoken DUP attacks on Education Minister Caitriona Ruane are to be referred to the Assembly speaker after claims they overstepped parliamentary rules.

Sinn Fein complained after a number of DUP representatives accused the minister of being bullying, threatening, malevolent and mischief-making.

The comments came in a series of attacks over Department of Education guidance on how primary schools should and should not co-operate with unofficial academic tests in grammar schools.

The DUP won cross-party support in the Assembly for its claims the move would restrict principals' ability to advise parents, but Sinn Fein said the issue emerged following requests from primary schools for guidance on how to deal with the unofficial tests.

DUP education spokesman Mervyn Storey said: "What has been the hallmark of the minister that is in the House today? Be malevolent, be involved in meddling, be involved in mischief-making, in the hope that somehow, you will be able by some other means to wear down the system in such a way that people will ultimately roll over and allow her ideological position to take precedence.

"What we are seeing in this debate today is another in a long line of attacks that this education minister has had on those that she wants to change ideologically."

When the DUP's Michelle McIlveen endorsed comments by her colleague Jonathan Bell, who she said had accused the minister of seeking to bully parents, the debate was halted by Sinn Fein's John O'Dowd, who made a complaint to the chair.

Mr O'Dowd said the comments had gone too far for the purposes of political debate and asked for the speaker's office to rule on the remarks.

Deputy Speaker Francie Molloy said the comments were not unlike other tense exchanges heard in previous education debates. He reprimanded members he said had ignored his call for appropriate language to be used and agreed to have the remarks reviewed.

The minister, meanwhile, said she had acted in response to requests from primary principals who wanted guidance on how to handle the unregulated tests organised by grammars. She asked the DUP to account for its change of policy on the 11-Plus transfer test and cited a 1989 manifesto from the party which she said branded the exam as socially divisive.

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