Belfast Telegraph

Education Minister accused of failing children over education board vacancy delays

Education Minister John O'Dowd was tonight accused of failing children over delays in filling vacancies on the Belfast Education and Library Board.

The Sinn Fein man was criticised during a meeting of Belfast City Council where it also was revealed three Sinn Fein councillors had not progressed beyond an eligibility sift.

A fourth councillor, Sinn Fein Deputy Lord Mayor Tierna Cunningham withdrew her application to sit on the board.

"This is vitally important for this city. Education is the lifeblood (of the city). We did provide backbone when we were there," said SDLP councillor Tim Attwood.

There has been no political representation on the BELB since 2009, it was claimed.

Last year eight councillors seeking to take up a position were asked to submit an application form and sit an interview described as a "conversation with a purpose".

DUP MLA William Humphrey said communities were voiceless about difficult decisions such as school closures and mergers because politicians had no input on the board.

"That rather renders political parties impotent on this issue," he said. "The Minister should not be playing politics with young people's lives and futures."

Meanwhile, Sinn Fein councillor Jim McVeigh said he hoped the Minister would make the appointments as soon as possible.

A proposal to write to Mr O'Dowd received unanimous support.

In a statement a spokesman for the Department of Education said: "The department has agreed transitional arrangements with the Commissioner for Public Appointments for filling vacancies on boards of Education and Library Boards during the period until the Education and Skills Authority is established.

"Under these arrangements the department's position is that there should be at least two applicants for each vacancy; that applicants are required to demonstrate how they meet the criteria for board membership; and that this process should result in a sufficient pool of candidates recommended as suitable for appointment to provide a degree of choice for the Minister in making appointments.

"This process has operated effectively across all other local councils and ELBs. There have been challenges, however, in relation to Belfast City Council's nominees for the BELB Board, in getting sufficient numbers of suitable candidates and the Council has again been asked to provide additional nominees. A response is awaited in relation to the department's most recent request for the Council to provide a minimum of an additional four nominees."

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