Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Inside... Education

She may have courted controversy as Education Minister but when it came down to it the voters re-elected Caitriona Ruane to the Assembly for another four years.

Yes they gave the enigmatic Ms Ruane a bit of a kicking by overturning her success in the 2007 elections when she topped the poll in South Down but at the end of the day who will remember that SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie trumped her with 8,1056 votes compared to 5,995? Will anyone recall in years to come that Ms Ruane also failed to get elected on the first count?

Although numerically her vote is down by more than 300 on 2007 and Ms Ritchie's up by more than 2,500, if you look at the percentages for first preference votes Caitriona Ruane has in fact gained in popularity from 13.7% to 14.3%.

The electorate has rubberstamped Sinn Fein's mandate, which clearly states that the party wants "the harmonisation of the two education systems on the island" and "promoting and facilitating Irish medium education". Unionists, and undoubtedly some moderate nationalists, tried their best to put a spanner in the works but this week we will see Caitriona Ruane back at Stormont.

And with that rite of passage the Sinn Fein MLA for South Down could have her wish come true and continue as Education Minister.

That will undoubtedly strike fear in the heart of many but until Thursday, at the earliest, the battle for education will not be known.

Comments on Twitter about Caitriona Ruane continuing as Education Minister include one tweeter who says she will send her children to a boarding school in England while another states she has "ruined education here".

The DUP firmly stated that it wants Finance and Education but as the biggest party it has first choice of the ministries and that will be Finance, leaving Sinn Fein the option to retain Education.

Although Sinn Fein is keeping its card much closer to its chest there are whispers that the party will use its first choice to take control of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, leaving the DUP to take Education as its second choice.

However, there is always the chance that Sinn Fein, who in just four years has axed the 11-plus and academic state testing at 11, will want to continue with its radical reform of our education system.

And if that happens, after eight years in control of education, there will be no going back from the path Sinn Fein has opted to tread.

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