Plans for Irish language college among those left in the balance

An Bradan Feasa College submitted plans for a school at Ebrington. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin

Plans to open an Irish language college at the site of a former British army base are among those left in the balance by the Stormont crisis.

A total of 19 school reorganisation projects, which include closures, expansions and mergers, are awaiting ministerial approval.

Numerous sectors will be affected, the majority hoping the changes can be made by August this year.

They need a minister to rubber stamp them, however, and uncertainty at Stormont has now cast doubt on these `development proposals'.

The 19 proposals concern 15 schools including grammar, integrated, nursery, Catholic maintained and Irish-medium providers.

They include:

  • An increase in enrolment at Dalriada School from 815 to 897 pupils
  •  The closure of Anamar PS in Crossmaglen from August 2017
  • The relocation of Forge Integrated PS onto the former Knockbreda High site in Belfast by September 2019

The publication of development proposals is always followed by a two month consultation period. After that, the education minister will receive reports and guidance from officials before deciding whether or not to approve.

The consultation period for 11 of the 15 proposals only ended after the election.

Among those that sat with the previous education minister Peter Weir of the DUP was a plan for a new 400-pupil Irish-medium post-primary school for Derry.

An Bradan Feasa College, which translates as 'the salmon of knowledge' submitted plans last November for an "all-ability, co-educational, multi-denominational" Irish language school.

It is hoped that it can welcome its first intake of pupils in September this year. The preferred site is the former army base at Ebrington on the waterside of the city.

Its approval would mean Irish-medium secondary education returning to the city after an absence of almost a decade.

In 2008, then education minister Caitríona Ruane agreed to the closure of Colaiste Bhride. Pupil intakes were small and there was no prospect of recovery.

A separate proposal for Irish-medium secondary education for Derry was rejected by Mr Weir in November last year.

Regarding a proposed new Irish unit at St Brigid's College, Mr Weir said he was "concerned at the detrimental impact such a proposal would have on existing Irish-medium provision at Gaelcholaiste Dhoire which would threaten the long term sustainability of the school".

Gaelcholáiste Dhoire in Dungiven opened to 16 pupils last year, but is starting to grow quickly. It is hoped it will cater for 400 young people.

St Brigid's said it was determined to continue with its provision for Irish-medium education.

Comhairle na Gaelscolaíochta has said there is "clear demand from parents for a standalone IM post-primary school which will cater exclusively for those children who have attended IM primary schools".

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