Belfast Telegraph

Irish language school's bid to move must be reconsidered, judge rules

Former DUP education minister originally rejected school's proposal to relocate

By Alan Erwin

A decision to turn down an Irish language primary school's bid to relocate from its current 115-year-old building in west Belfast must be reconsidered, a High Court judge ruled on Friday.

Mrs Justice Keegan ordered reconsideration of Gaelscoil an Lonnain's plans after identifying flaws in how they were originally handled.

Her verdict came in a legal challenge mounted by the mother of two pupils after former Education Minister Peter Weir refused the proposal.

It provides new hope for the school in its attempt to move from premises parents regard as "Victorian", cramped, and no longer fit for purpose.

Gaelscoil an Lonnain, with an enrolment of just under 60 children, has been at its current site on the Falls Road since 2004.

In December 2015 its Board of Governors submitted a relocation proposal to the Department of Education.

Its plan was to move to the former site of St Comgall's School.

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

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

Lawyers for the parent who issued judicial review proceedings claimed the Democratic Unionist MLA acted irrationally and failed to comply with a statutory duty to develop Irish medium education.

They also argued that the decision unlawfully took into account irrelevant factors.

Backing their case, the judge held that the Minister had not properly taken into account the views of Comhairle na Gaelscolaiochta, describing his approach at one point as being "too rigid".

She also found that a legal duty to facilitate Irish medium education was not fully addressed.

"I'm not prepared to allow this decision to remain in place," Mrs Justice Keegan said.

"The decision must be quashed, and I will direct that the development proposal is reconsidered in light of this ruling."

Campaigners seeking to secure a new home for the Gaelscoil an Lonnain were jubilant at the outcome.

Comhairle na Gaelscolaiochta's chief executive, Liam O Flannagain, said: "It gives us fresh hope that we shall now be able to progress to proper accommodation for the children in future."

The parent who took the case insisted the current building is not acceptable.

"Conditions are quite Victorian, there's no proper accommodation for children with special needs or PE facilities," she said.

Her lawyer, Joanne McGurk, of Michael Flanigan Solicitors, added: "It's a positive step for Irish medium education.

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