Sinn Fein’s O’Dowd turns down plan for Irish nurseries
The education minister has turned down requests for two new Irish language nursery schools.
John O’Dowd has refused permission for statutory nursery units to be set up at Bunscoil Bheanna Boirche in Castlewellan and Gaelscoil Eanna, Glengormley.
The minister, whose party pledged in its election manifesto to promote and facilitate Irish medium education, revealed his decision yesterday.
Mr O’Dowd said: “I take my statutory duties in relation to Irish-medium education very seriously. Each development proposal for the establishment of new provision must, however, be carefully considered.”
Explaining the move, the minister said: “There are already sufficient Irish-medium places to meet current demand in the area and it is not my department’s policy to displace good quality pre-school provision already in existence, with pre-school provision in an alternative setting.”
The Northern Eastern Education and Library Board submitted the development proposal for the new grant-aided Irish medium nursery Naiscoil Eanna in Glengormley with the Department of Education in March. It was seeking funding for 26 full-time places for September 1.
The South Eastern Education and Library Board made its request for ‘Naiscoil Uachtar Tire’ on March 22. It also wanted 26 full-time places for September 1.
Both requests were submitted to the department before John O’Dowd was appointed education minister in May.
Mr O’Dowd has indicated from day one that with the pressure on his budget, he would have to make tough decisions.
He is due to make an anxiously awaited announcement on the future of the schools’ estate in the Assembly later this month including the capital build programme.
Mr O’Dowd told the Belfast Telegraph in June: “As we progress through this term and as we enter years two, three and four of a very, very difficult budget I am going to have to make some very difficult decisions around how we plan our schools estate, the numbers available to each school etc.
“Those are all decisions that lie ahead of me and I will take into consideration all aspects of what I view to be a good education system into account when I make those decisions.”
He added: “I think even if we were in a more favourable financial position there’s an argument for rationalising our schools’ estate.
“I will be assessing the schools’ estate through the prism of the Sustainable Schools policy married to a number of other policies including Every School A Good School.”
Minister not afraid of tough calls
When the Belfast Telegraph interviewed John O’Dowd in June he clearly set out his stall. He wanted to be a minister who opened dialogue in education, but also warned that tough decisions had to be made.
Mr O’Dowd has already started making those choices — evident in his refusal yesterday to grant aid for two Irish nurseries
It was a brave move as that decision will impact predominantly on nationalist/republican voters — south Down is a Sinn Fein stronghold. But Mr O’Dowd has already proved that he is concerned with improving the educational outcome of all.
He has also vowed to tackle underachievement among Protestant working-class boys.
Turning down proposals for new schools and agreeing to pull the plugs on others will prove unpopular for the Education Minister, but in the current financial climate every penny counts. This makes the argument for sharing, collaboration and integrating even stronger.