The Irish language community in Londonderry have hit out at Education Minister Peter Weir after he turned down a development proposal for a statutory part-time Irish-medium (IM) nursery unit at Gaelscoil na Daróige.
Principal Oisín MacEó expressed his disappointment and branded Mr Weir’s decision to refuse the Ballymagroarty-based school permission to replace its existing part-time voluntary nursery with a fully funded statutory nursery, as “farcical.”
“The reasons given today for not granting statutory status are, quite frankly, farcical,” he said.
“The Minister says he cannot allow us a statutory nursery as it will displace the already existing good quality, voluntary pre-school. We are in effect, being punished for running a good quality voluntary pre-school.
“In reality, the Department gets good quality education here on the cheap while maintaining the inequality between Irish Medium and English Medium in the area.
“We also note that in making previous decisions, the Department have always considered the implications for schools within a two mile radius, as this is the acceptable walking distance to school according to the Department’s own handbook. This has been changed in relation to our application to now consider schools and their sustainability issues from a wider area than usual in order to knock us back,” said Mr MacEó.
Turning down the development proposal, Mr Weir said: “I recognise my statutory duty in relation to Irish-medium education however I am also bound to consider carefully all the information pertinent to any proposal to establish new provision. I consider each proposal on a case-by-case basis and also give regard to the potential displacement of a good quality voluntary pre-school setting.
“There are three Irish Medium (IM) primary schools within a three mile radius, two of which are currently undersubscribed for nursery provision therefore approving this proposal could create sustainability issues for all existing IM providers in the city.”
In conclusion the Minister said:
“I have taken account of all the information provided and have concluded that there is not enough evidence for the requirement of additional Irish-medium pre-school provision at Gaelscoil na Daróige. There is already sufficient provision to meet future demand for Irish-medium pre-school places in the area.”
But Mr MacEó suggested there is an ideological subtext to Mr Weir’s decision.
“Before the last election, the DUP promised to halt the growth of Irish Medium Education which has more than doubled in enrolments in the last ten years.
“Since taking office in May, Peter Weir has pulled the plug on the relocation of a Falls Road Gaelscoil from poor accommodation to an empty school building 400 metres down the road and controversially pulled funding from special needs nuture units in two other Belfast gaelscoils.
“Like the schools in Belfast we will also be fighting to roll back this decision.
“It would seem the minister is not fulfilling his obligations to encourage and facilitate the growth of Irish Medium Education under the relevant Education Order and we are currently taking legal advice on a way forward. Once again, however, I would assure parents that arrangements at the current provision will not be affected,” he said.