Education Minister, John O’Dowd, has turned down a development proposal to expand Gaelscoil Uí Dhochartaigh, Strabane.
The Western Education and Library Board, on behalf of the Board of Governors of Gaelscoil Uí Dhochartaigh, published a development proposal seeking to expand the school through the establishment of an ‘off-site unit’ in Castlederg.
This unit was to be a conversion of the existing, independent Irish-medium provision in Castlederg, Gaelscoil na Deirge.
The Minister said: “I take my statutory duties in relation to Irish-medium education very seriously and I recognise that both Gaelscoil Uí Dhochartaigh and Gaelscoil na Deirge deliver good quality education through the medium of Irish to children in the Strabane and Castlederg areas respectively.
“I am also, however, duty bound to consider carefully all the information pertinent to any proposal to establish new provision on a case-by-case basis.
“While my Department has a statutory duty to encourage and facilitate the development of Irish-medium education, it would not be prudent for me to approve this proposal to expand Gaelscoil Uí Dhochartaigh. The proposal as put forward is not financially viable and approval would potentially see the school fall into a deficit position which in turn may threaten the viability of the host school.
“Furthermore, a new-build project for Gaelscoil Uí Dhochartaigh, close to its existing Strabane site, is currently progressing in planning. The new-build project does not factor in the costs or implications associated with establishing an extension of the school in Castlederg and would inevitably need to be reassessed should the new unit be approved.
“I would also highlight the many practical issues that would arise from establishing and running what would effectively be a split-site school with locations some 13 miles apart. There is a risk, for example, that pupils at the Castlederg location would experience a lack of peer socialisation with their counterparts on the Strabane site.
“Taking all of these factors into account, I am not satisfied that the establishment of the proposed ‘off-site unit’ at Castlederg is viable or in the best educational interests of the children.”
The Minister went on to say: “By turning down this proposal, I would emphasise that I am not suggesting that there is no demand for Irish-medium education in the Castlederg area.
“Further work is required to provide a robust solution to meet this demand that is educationally strong and viable, financially sound and works to the benefit of local children.
“I am therefore tasking Comhairle na Gaelscolaíochta, the Western Education and Library Board and the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools to explore options for Irish-medium provision in the area. I will give due consideration to any new development proposals that may arise.
“I firmly believe that this approach will best serve the longer term interests children and parents in Strabane and Castlederg who wish to learn through the medium of Irish.”