Belfast Telegraph

Mother of pupil at Belfast girls' school wins High Court permission to challenge amalgamation with all-boys' school

By Alan Erwin

The mother of a pupil at a north Belfast girls' school has won High Court permission to challenge its planned amalgamation with an all-boys' college.

A judge granted leave to seek a judicial review of former Education Minister John O'Dowd's approval of merging Little Flower with St Patrick's College Bearnageeha.

Lawyers for the girl's parent are seeking to quash decisions to close both and create a new co-educational school, opening in September 2017.

They claim the plan discriminates against Catholic students in the area by unlawfully denying them the opportunity of single-sex, non-grammar education.

Mr O'Dowd approved the amalgamation in March this year following a proposal from the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools.

But the parents of children at Little Flower have been fighting the plans, with a petition gaining more than 1,600 signatures.

One of them launched a legal challenge in a bid to have the decision overturned.

Her legal team argued that it was in breach of a duty under the Northern Ireland Act 1998 to promote equality of opportunity.

Delivering judgment in the application for leave to apply for judicial review, Mr Justice Maguire held that an arguable case was established on this ground.

The case will now proceed to a full hearing before the end of this year

Outside court solicitor Brian Moss, representing the Little Flower pupil's mother, confirmed the intention to argue the Minister and his Department failed to honour their obligations under Section 75 of the Act.

He said: "By granting leave to apply for judicial review, Mr Justice Maguire recognised that the Minister's decision has profound implications for the choice of non-grammar, single-sex Catholic education in the north Belfast area, when compared with state school provision which will continue in the area.

"Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act is an important constitutional provision, which requires Northern Ireland Executive Departments and Ministers, to all have due regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity, when carrying out their functions.

"These functions affect all of our lives, and certainly, in this case, the lives of those who live in the north Belfast area."

Mr Moss added: "It is expected that the case will clarify the law with regard to Section 75 of the 1998 Act, and what the Government must do to ensure compliance with it."

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