Belfast Telegraph

DUP's Weir entitled to block Irish school’s relocation: judges

Peter Weir
Peter Weir

By Alan Erwin

A former Education Minister was entitled to refuse an Irish language primary school's bid to relocate from its 117-year-old building in west Belfast, appeal judges held yesterday.

In a majority decision, they overturned a previous High Court ruling that quashed Peter Weir's rejection of Gaelscoil an Lonnain's plans. Lord Justice Deeny said: "The process here was neither unfair nor unlawful."

The outcome represents a major blow for the school in its attempts to move from premises regarded by pupils' parents as being cramped and no longer fit for purpose.

With an enrolment of around 60 children, Gaelscoil an Lonnain currently operates at a building on the Falls Road that opened in 1901.

In 2015 its board of governors submitted a relocation proposal to the Department of Education.

The plan was to move to the former site of St Comgall's School in the nearby Divis area.

Support was said to have been secured from the Education Authority, the Education and Training Authority and Comhairle na Gaelscolaiochta, which is the statutory body set up to advise the Department of Education on compliance with the obligation to facilitate the development of Irish language education.

Mr Weir turned down the proposals in June 2016 amid concerns about the school's sustainability.

The mother of two pupils issued judicial review proceedings over his decision, claiming the DUP MLA acted irrationally and failed to comply with a statutory duty to develop Irish-medium education.

In October 2017 a High Court judge backed her case, ruling that the minister had not properly taken into account the views of Comhairle na Gaelscolaiochta, and described his approach at one point as being "too rigid".

At that stage his decision was quashed and a direction given for the development proposal to be reconsidered.

But judges in the Court of Appeal yesterday reversed the verdict by a two to one majority.

Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan and Lord Justice Deeny both held the minister had been entitled to make the decision.

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