Clintyclay Primary School: Top judge quashes John O'Dowd's 'infected' decision to halt integrated school
Education Minister John O'Dowd's decision to close a Catholic primary school instead of allowing it to go integrated has been criticised by a senior judge.
The decision to close Clintyclay Primary School was quashed yesterday by Mr Justice Treacy.
The High Court judge ruled that the minister's approval for a bid by the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) to close Clintyclay was "infected" by incorrect information that the school had financial problems.
Mr O'Dowd must now retake the decision.
The minister responded, saying he is "considering all options available including an appeal".
Gerard Cunningham, who has a daughter at the school and brought the judicial review, said the court verdict would inject new confidence into the community, and that he was looking forward to the school remaining open in September.
Mr O'Dowd announced his decision to close Clintyclay last October after considering a proposal for closure and a proposal for transformation to integrated status. The minister said low enrolment numbers [of 30 children] meant it was no longer sustainable.
Yesterday at Belfast High Court, Mr Justice Treacy held that Mr O'Dowd's approval of a proposal to close Clintyclay Primary was "infected" by relying on erroneous information that the school had financial problems.
He said: "In fact, not only was it not in financial difficulties, it had a budget surplus."
Delivering judgment, Mr Justice Treacy focused on how the mistaken belief that it was facing cash problems had featured in the move towards closure.
He said it may have originated from a CCMS parish review which was fiercely disputed by the school and parents. However the error occurred, it made its way into the decision-making process, the judge noted.
He emphasised how Clintyclay's attempt to transform its status could have "a galvanising impact" on the integrated sector.
"The minister was faced with the possibility of saving an educationally successful and obviously much-loved school at the epicentre of its [local community]," Mr Justice Treacy said.
Such an outcome would also have been a "groundbreaking" boost for integrated education.
"The minister clearly and mistakenly made both important decisions on the basis the school was under financial stress," he said.
"It's also clear that the advice given to the minister was infected by the erroneous CCMS report and by this material financial inaccuracy. The problem for the respondent in this case is there never was any financial or budgetary difficulties."
Story so far
Clintyclay Primary, located close to Dungannon, is the first from the Catholic sector to attempt to become an officially integrated school. The Council for Catholic Maintained Schools submitted a proposal to close it, while the Clintyclay's governors applied for integrated status.
Education Minister John O'Dowd decided to close it, arguing with just 30 pupils it is not sustainable