Two more Irish school proposals rejected by DUP minister
TWO new proposals to expand the Irish-language schools sector have been rejected by the education minister.
Peter Weir turned down separate bids to establish publicly-funded Irish-medium units in Derry and Kilkeel.
Since becoming minister in May, the DUP politician has now rejected five out of six `development proposals' concerning the Irish-medium sector.
Campaigners voiced concern in the summer when they pointed out that his party promised in its assembly election manifesto to "tackle the preferential treatment" of Irish-medium schooling.
Since then, Mr Weir has rejected a pre-school unit at Gaelscoil na Daroige in Derry due to other schools nearby, dismissed a bid for a part-time nursery unit at Bunscoil an Iuir in Newry, and told Gaelscoil an Lonnain it can not relocate to the former St Comghall's PS in west Belfast.
The two most recent decisions involved schools in the north west and Co Down.
Gaelscoil na mBeann in Kilkeel wanted to open a fully grant-aided Irish-medium nursery unit from September 1 this year.
A pre-school, Naíscoil na mBeann, opened in 2007 and has offered funded places since 2009. It is housed in a mobile unit on a shared site with Gaelscoil na mBeann.
Both have grown in popularity. Numbers at the primary have risen from 20 to 58.
While the nursery receives some government money, full grant-aided status would have helped it cover all staffing costs as well as being able to afford maintenance.
Rejecting the proposal, Mr Weir said "demand for pre-school places in the area is currently being met".
On the same day, a proposal for the establishment of an Irish-medium unit at St Brigid's College in Derry was turned down.
Its approval would have meant 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 Bhríde. Pupil intakes at the school - also known as Meánscoil Dhoire - were small and there was no prospect of recovery.
In reaching his decision, Mr Weir said he was mindful of his statutory duties towards Irish-medium education but was "concerned at the detrimental impact such a proposal would have on existing Irish-medium provision at Gaelcholáiste Dhoire which would threaten the long term sustainability of the school".
Gaelcholáiste Dhoire in Dungiven, Co Derry opened this year to 16 pupils, but is starting to grow quickly. It is hoped it will cater for 400 young people.
St Brigid's confirmed it had received Mr Weir’s decision, and said the school was determined to continue with its provision for Irish-medium education.
Mr Weir will next year make a decision on a separate proposal for a stand-alone 400-pupil Irish-language secondary school in Derry.
It is hoped the new Year 8-14 school - to be known as An Bradán Feasa - will open by September 2017. The former army base at Ebrington in the Waterside has been identified as a potential site.
Comhairle na Gaelscolaíochta said there was "clear demand from parents for a standalone IM post-primary school which will cater exclusively for those children who have attended IM primary schools".