UUP: Dungiven Irish language college unaffordable

Danny Kinahan MLA.  INNT 10-037-FP
Danny Kinahan MLA. INNT 10-037-FP

The UUP claims the education minister has approved a new Irish language school in Dungiven which is neither affordable nor viable and is against the advice of “a host of experts”.

UUP education spokesman Danny Kinahan MLA has called on John O’Dowd to justify his decision.

He said the minister had approved the new school “contrary to the professional guidance of his departmental officials and a host of educational experts”.

After reading the development proposal he was “utterly at a loss to understand how Minister O’Dowd has made his decision” to approve Colaiste Dhoire.

“A government minister has a duty and responsibility to make rational decisions for the benefit of society as a whole, taking due consideration of the need to be responsible in spending taxpayers’ money.

“If a minister decides to disregard advice from his departmental officials, he needs to have solid, defensible grounds for doing so. In this example, the minister for education needs to state clearly what the basis for his decision is.

“The Western Education and Library Board, the Education and Training Inspectorate and the Department of Education itself have all said that the proposal is neither affordable nor viable.

“St Patrick’s College in nearby Maghera provides an Irish language unit and they also have objected to the new school proposal.

“Damningly, even the Ministerial Advisory Group, which published a report last month reviewing Irish medium education, has said that approval of this proposal flouts its recommendations.”

The projected initial intake of 15 pupils is “ridiculously low” for a secondary school, he added.

“It has been estimated that approximately 11 double mobile classrooms will be required at a cost of approximately £600,000 (plus VAT) per year, with specialised accommodation increasing the cost.

“The school’s estimated first year deficit is around £100,000 and this will have to be carried forward to subsequent years.

“How on Earth can this be approved when the minister is pleading poverty? He is facing a funding gap of £162.5m in next year’s budget, with 2,500 teaching and support staff jobs under threat of being cut by April 2015.”

Education Minister Mr O’Dowd responded that he makes the final decisions: “I take very seriously my statutory duty to encourage and facilitate education through the medium of Irish.

“While I note the advice of officials, I am the minister and it is my role to make the final decision on all development proposals. I stand over my decision on Colaiste Dhoire.”