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Fine Gael challenged on North’s school closures

21 February, 2012 - by Seán Crowe TD

Sinn Féin Education Spokesperson Seán Crowe TD has challenged FG Deputy John O’Mahony over his claims that Sinn Féin has closed 28 schools in the North.

Deputy Crowe suggested that Mr O’Mahony “get his facts right” before commenting on issues North of the border and said no amount of misrepresentation on behalf of Fine Gael could mask the damage his Government is inflicting on the Irish education system.

He continued: “Deputy O’Mahony’s claims that the North’s Education Minister, John O’Dowd, MLA, has closed 28 post-primary schools in the North are simply not true.

“Minister O’Dowd has not closed any post-primary schools either last week or since he came into office last May. The decision to close a school is taken primarily by the local education authorities, and, unlike what is being imposed in the South, decisions are taken for educational – not budgetary reasons.

“The Minister will only agree to a proposal to close a school once he is satisfied, following consultation with the community, parents, stakeholders etc, and having examined all the evidence, that it is in the best interests of the children’s education. This means he must be satisfied that alternative arrangements have been put in place to allow children to attend a school in the area which meets their educational requirements.

“In his statement, Deputy O’Mahony refers to the closure of Drumcree College in Portadown. Drumcree College was one of a number of schools referred to in the ‘Post Primary Review Strategic Regional Report’ published by the Commission for Catholic Education on 13 February 2012. It is the responsibility of the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools to manage provision in the maintained schools’ estate and to bring forward proposals to the Department of Education.

“That process has yet to take place with regard to Drumcree College and the others named in the Commission’s report.

“It is wholly inaccurate and ‘gilding the lily’ to make wild claims that Minister John O Dowd has closed 28 schools.

“On a wider point, Sinn Féin was not responsible for the £4bn reduction to the Block Grant which has been imposed on the people of the Six Counties following the British Chancellor’s Spending Review announcement on 20 October 2010.

“The cuts imposed by the British Tory Party on the Executive and Assembly budget have been resisted at every turn by Sinn Féin and our party was the driver behind the Budget review process which has, so far, identified £1.6billion in additional revenue.

“My party colleagues and others in the Assembly are continuing to resist these cuts and are seeking additional means of finance. They have battled vigorously to defend the North’s education sector at every opportunity and will continue to do so.

“Unlike Fine Gael and Labour they have prioritised and ring-fenced education funding for disadvantage and children with special needs.

“It is quite clear that the newly found interest in Northern issues by FG and Labour is an attempt to ‘muddy the waters’ and deflect attention away from the serious damage they are inflicting on the Irish education system by completely misrepresenting what is actually happening there.” Críoch

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