30/06/2008 :: Northern Ireland :: The Irish News
The rights of Irish-medium schools should be respected and supported, the education minister Caitriona Ruane has said.
The minister was speaking during an assembly debate on proposals for new state-controlled, Catholic maintained, integrated and Irish-medium schools.
Ms Ruane had been criticised for authorising funding for an Irish school in Derry despite advisers and inspectors warning it would damage the city's existing bunscoileanna, where there are already empty desks.
Last August, she approved three years' funding for Gaelscoil na Daroige in the Ballymagroarty area, making it the third government-funded Irish-medium primary school in Derry city.
A motion tabled by education committee member Michelle McIlveen said there was concern that the minister was not considering proposals from other sectors while approving Gaelscoil na Daroige.
Ms Ruane said the motion was based on a false premise.
"The fact is that there have been no such proposals for new schools in the controlled or maintained sectors. There has only been one proposal for a new integrated school in the past year, the establishment of Blackwater Integrated College, which I approved," she said.
"I have a statutory duty to encourage and facilitate the Irish-medium and integrated sectors. Demand for both is growing in a schools population that is in overall decline, which is why I support relevant proposals."
Last week the minister approved the closure of one of the north's few Irish-medium post-primary schools - Colaiste Bhride in Derry.
The decision leaves Colaiste Feirste in Belfast and An Sruth Gaeilge at St Catherine's College in Armagh as Northern Ireland's only two government-funded Irish-medium secondary schools.
Gaelscoil Speirin in Tyrone opened recently as an independent school and the minister is due to make a decision on whether to allow it to become grant-aided with Colaiste Feirste acting as a conduit for funding.
She is also expected to approve a proposal to shut Gaelscoil an Damba in west Belfast.
The school's management committee proposed that the primary, which only had 29 pupils at the start of the school year, be shut in August.
"Since I became minister for education, I have taken decisions on 37 proposals. None of them were for new controlled or maintained schools," Ms Ruane said.
"My decision to support Gaelscoil na Daroige was taken following my careful consideration of all the information available.
"In the event, the school did not achieve the required intake numbers, so no funding was provided.
"I will continue to examine each and every proposal fairly and on its merits, irrespective of the sector it originates from," she said.