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Stormont clashes predicted for Ruane

11-06-2008


11/06/2008 :: Northern Ireland :: The Irish News

More fiery clashes are expected between Caitriona Ruane and the Stormont education committee following the appointment of its new chairman.

Mervyn Storey, an outspoken critic of education minister Ms Ruane, was yesterday chosen to replace Sammy Wilson in the chair.

Tensions between the minister and the committee had already increased to the point where the assembly speaker was asked to intervene.

Now it appears there will be no let-up for the minister.

A supporter of the independent Christian schools, Mr Storey previously said the minister was "hopelessly out of her depth".

In January the DUP member criticised the minister's now notorious appearance before the committee as "an absolute disgrace".

A creationist, Mr Storey already appears to have frustrated the minister by repeated assembly questions challenging her to prove or deny the existence of God.

Last night Mr Storey said he was looking forward to the challenge. He also paid tribute to his predecessor, praising him for his "outstanding work".

"What we need to keep in mind is that although the personnel may change, the issues remain the same," he said.

"We still have a minister who fails to grasp the fact that she cannot railroad her proposals through.

"It would seem that, to date, this minister does not want agreement and somehow still seems determined to continue with her policy despite an absence of any political consensus."

He said this was no way to reach agreement.

"The door to agreement remains open but it is for the minister to go through it," Mr Storey said.

Sinn Fein committee member John O'Dowd said he hoped to build a good working relationship with the new chairman.

"I hope he will work with the rest of us on what is a very heavy workload," he said.

Meanwhile, former first minister Ian Paisley has criticised Ms Ruane's proposals for a new system to replace the 11-plus.

He said grammar schools would remain in future despite the minister's plans to ban all forms of academic selection by 2013.

Pupils will instead transfer under the new arrangements on the basis of a non-academic criteria.

These include catchment areas, nearest suitable schools, feeder primaries and new "socially disadvantaged criteria", where schools may admit a dedicated number of children entitled to free meals.

Mr Paisley said, however, that there was support for retaining grammar schools on both sides of the religious and political divide.

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