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Irish schools ‘preferential treatment’ claim rejected

April 6, 2016

IRISH language education campaigners have rejected DUP claims that the sector enjoys preferential treatment.

In its assembly election manifesto, the DUP promised to deliver equality for all sectors.

This would involve “tackling the preferential treatment of Irish medium in school build”.

It would also include the abolition of the Catholic teacher training certificate as well as “a fairer and better funding formula for schools”.

Sinn Féin has been in charge of education since 2007 but it has been suggested a unionist party may select it next time.

The singling out of Irish-medium schools in the DUP’s manifesto, however, has prompted some to now say Sinn Féin might opt to hold education again.

Campaigners dismissed the claims of preferential treatment as “nonsense”.

Education minister John O’Dowd has made three major capital announcements totalling more than £500 million. Two of the 18 schools first selected to benefit were in the Irish-medium sector.

P1 enrolments in Irish-medium schools have grown from less than 400 to about 650 over the last six years and the overall population of the sector has also increased.

This growth has bucked the trend of declining numbers within the English-medium sector generally, and means that the needs within Irish-medium are now significantly greater in terms of new buildings.

While there is proportionately higher expenditure on Irish-medium schools, the state of many buildings in the sector compare unfavourably to those elsewhere.

There was unionist anger this year when Mr O’Dowd announced that a small bunscoil in Co Fermanagh was to move onto the site of a former secondary school that was shut down due to low pupil numbers.

Lisnaskea High School also had a debt that was spiralling out of control when it closed.

UUP MP Tom Elliott and DUP assembly member Peter Weir were among those who raised concerns that part of the former school would be used to accommodate bunscoil pupils.

Mr Elliott criticised minister John O’Dowd and said Lisnaskea High had more than three times the number of pupils as the Irish-medium school moving into the building.

When Bunscoil an Traonaigh moves onto the site later this year, it will be in mobile accommodation rather than inside the building itself.

Pilib Ó Ruanaí, chief executive of Iontaobhas na Gaelscolaíochta, the trust for the Irish-medium sector, said many schools were housed in temporary accommodation.

“There has to be some improvement. In terms of there being preferential treatment, it simply is not true. There is a robust process,” he said.

“In Lisnaskea, the school is moving onto a site that was declared surplus to requirements three to four years prior.

“All of a sudden it becomes an issue. The protocol is the same for every school – it looks at issues of sustainability, existing accommodation, area planning – it is the same for all sectors.”