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Ruane under fire over funding for Irish schools

July 28, 2010

Caitriona Ruane has been challenged over her spending on Irish language schools when many have a significant number of empty seats.

Ulster Unionist MLA Tom Elliott questioned the education minister over her capital investment in Northern Ireland’s 22 Irish language primary schools in an Assembly written question.
A total of 830 spaces were unfilled across the sector, according to the schools’ census of October last year.
The Fermanagh and South Tyrone representative has concerns over spending on Irish language schools which he says has risen “five-fold in the last three years”.

He said: “Given that 830 places remain empty within the Irish medium sector, I would question why the minister of education Caitriona Ruane is continuing to invest in the sector given the current fiscal constraints faced by the Northern Ireland Executive and her department.

“The minister is constantly crying poverty within her budget – yet she has increased her capital budget for Irish medium schools five-fold in the last three years when schools are not even reaching capacity and seats are remaining empty. Why?”
Earlier this year, the minister was embroiled in a row over her proposals to cut the £800 per pupil funding allocated to prep schools – while defending the £3,371 allocated to those in the Irish language sector.
The average primary school pupil in the Province attracts £2,911 in government funding while integrated schools receive £3,024 per pupil.

At the time, the education department said Irish medium schools were entitled to additional support.
A department spokesman said: “Higher average funding levels per pupil in Irish medium and integrated schools will, in part, reflect the greater proportion of smaller schools in these growing sectors.”
Mr Elliott said he respected the right of parents to educate their children in Irish but highlighted the “inevitable rationalisation” in the education sector and added: “We are going to have to find innovative ways to condense the school estate.”

The education minister responded to the latest criticism saying: “The overall number of children educated through the medium of Irish continues to grow across the north, although there is unequal provision in some areas.”
Ms Ruane said the department had “statutory responsibilities regarding how that demand is met” and added: “There are empty desks in every sector and in all cases a strategic approach is taken regarding funding decisions.”

Belfast Newsletter
28 Iúil 2010