Belfast Telegraph

We need to hear reasoning behind John O'Dowd's school decision

Editor's Viewpoint

Many will question the decision of Education Minister John O'Dowd to locate an Irish language school with 40 pupils on the site of a former 140-pupil school he closed in 2013.

Many eyebrows will be raised at the decision which appears contradictory in terms of numbers.

It seems odd that the minister can justify establishing a school with only 40 pupils after he closed another school on the same site with more than three times that number.

When Mr O'Dowd closed Lisnaskea High School, which was to be amalgamated with Devenish College, he claimed that it was "too late to reverse the years of falling numbers".

People will wonder why he is so enthusiastic about the future of the Bunscoil an Traonaigh, which was established in 2004 but still has only 40 pupils.

Either the minister has access to facts that most other people lack, or he is looking at the situation through rose-coloured spectacles.

The minister is being strongly challenged by MP Tom Elliott, who has expressed his concern that Mr O'Dowd has gone on a "solo run" and has claimed that there was no public consultation before this important decision was taken.

Elliott pulls no punches when he claims that schools are not being treated equally and that it appears "some pupils are more equal than others, and that Sinn Fein ideology trumps the needs of all our young people".

He also wants to know if Mr O'Dowd held consultations prior to taking his recent decision, and if so, with whom.

The minister is a skilled politician with a strong commitment to the agenda of Sinn Fein, which has long maintained a tight control of the education portfolio.

It is all the more important, therefore, that his decisions are questioned and seen to be transparent. And Tom Elliott is quite right to ask questions about a subject on which the Education Minister has not yet supplied a convincing answer.

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