Irish-medium schools funding row
The Stormont education minister has approved funding for four new Irish-medium schools even though hundreds of places remain unfilled in existing schools.
Premises in Magherafelt, Limavady, Kilkeel and Ballymena are scheduled to open in September.
However, Ulster Unionist Assembly member Tom Elliott criticised minister Caitriona Ruane for supporting Irish language schools while desks remain unfilled.
The Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA said: "The minister has increased the capital budget of the Irish medium sector five-fold over the past two and half years despite there being a clear under-subscription of some 830 places.
"Today's announcement will do nothing to allay the fear that this minister has no meaningful plan for dealing with a reduced budget and a need to rationalise the entire school estate. This is a fear that exists in all sectors."
However, the minister said the new schools reflected the demand from parents for education in Irish.
She said: "The Department of Education has a statutory duty to encourage and facilitate the development of Irish-medium education. I am therefore giving these four new schools conditional approval because I believe they will ensure that the choice of primary education through the medium of Irish is available to a growing number of children."
The new schools are Gaelscoil an tSeanchai, Magherafelt; Gaelscoil na mBeann, Kilkeel; Gaelscoil Leim an Mhadaidh, Limavady and Gaelscoil Choin Ri Uladh, Ballymena.
The 830 empty places were disclosed by the minister in an Assembly written answer.
Ms Ruane said that despite unequal provision in some areas she had a statutory responsibility to meet demand. She added: "There are empty desks in every sector and in all cases, a strategic approach is taken regarding funding decisions." The minister added: "Recurrent funding for all four schools will be conditional on the schools achieving the required admissions threshold. Any future capital funding will also be conditional on the schools being vested by the Department of Education when the schools have proven their long-term viability."