New Irish-medium school approved for Ballymena

SEPTEMBER looks set to see the foundation of a new grant-aided Gaelic-medium primary school in Ballymena.

Education Minister Caitrona Ruane confirmed her conditional approval of its establishment last Wednesday

It is proposed that Gaelscoil Choin R Uladh, will open its doors on September 1 or, as soon as possible thereafter.

The Minister said: “Demand from parents for Irish-medium education for their children has been growing for many years and the proposals for Gaelscoil Choin R Uladh reflect that demand in Ballymena. There is currently no Irish-medium primary provision in Ballymena.

“The Department of Education has a statutory duty to encourage and facilitate the development of Irish-medium education. This new school will ensure that the choice of primary education through the medium of Irish is available to a growing number of children.

“I am therefore giving conditional approval for recurrent funding for Gaelscoil Choin R Uladh,” said the Minister who added that funding will be conditional on the school achieving the required admissions threshold.

There is an established pre-school in the area, Nascoil Choin R Uladh, currently situated at St Joseph’s Early Learning Centre, Doury Road, from which the school intends to draw the majority of its Year 1 intake.

Ms Ruane stated that any future capital funding will also be conditional on the school being vested by the Department of Education when it has proven its long term viability.

She said: "The school will also be required to put in place robust measures to ensure adequate leadership and governance arrangements in co-operation with statutory bodies.

“I wish Gaelscoil Choin R Uladh every success in the future in delivering a quality education for its pupils through the medium of Irish,” said Ms Ruane.

The proposals for the school, which is one of three in the province to be given conditional approval by the Education Minister, have been supported by Comhairle na Gaelscolaochta, who have noted the increasing demand for Irish-medium education in the area and the potential to support new or existing post-primary provision.

The existing Nascoil Choin R Uladh was founded in Ballymena in 2004.

The Committee of Gaelscoil Choin R Uladh came together in 2008, as a group of parents and others who hoped to provide Irish-medium education in the Ballymena area. The school’s intended catchment area is Ballymena, Martinstown, Cargan, Ahoghill, Cullybackey and Broughshane.

Welcoming its endorsement by the Education Minister, Sinn Fin MLA Daithi McKay said: “The need for Irish medium education is on the increase and there has been a demand for an Irish language primary school in the Ballymena area.

“I welcome the fact that the Education Minister Caitriona Ruane has acknowledged this fact and has given approval for the new school Gaelscoil Choin R Uladh. It is important that parents and children who wish to have an education through the medium of Irish are catered for in all areas and this new school will go some way to meet that provision.

“However this is only the first step in developing the Gaelscoil infrastructure in the North Antrim area and I will continue to work with the parents and teachers in ensuring that children who choose to learn through the medium of Irish are treated in an equal manner to all other children”.

DUP Education Spokesman Mervyn Storey, however, hit out at the decision, pointing out that among the 22 existing Irish languge primary schools in the province there are already almost 1,000 empty spaces.

Mr Storey said: "People will be bemused by the Minister blindly throwing more and more money towards Irish language education in such a challenging public spending climate. No doubt the Minister will use her warped view of equality as justification.

"There are pressures across all sectors and particularly in education the common sense approach would be to rationalise rather than incur extra costs,” he said.

Also commenting on Sinn Fein Minister Ruane’s decision, TUV Leader Jim Allister recalled that just a few months ago Ruane announced the closure of a local controlled primary at Ballee.

“Parents in the controlled sector will rightly resent the fact that whereas on one hand she closes Ballee, she at the same time wastes scarce resources on an unnecessary Irish medium school in the same town.

“This is the perverted Sinn Fein view of equality. It is also precisely the type of partisan action which the DUP promised they had curbed by removing such solo run powers from Sinn Fein Ministers,” said Mr Allister.

Robin Swann, Chairman of the North Antrim Ulster U nionist Association, commented: “When Ballee Primary School has been closed, and we have had to fight tooth and nail to retain Harryville, it is grossly offensive to witness the Minister’s Irish-medium school free-for-all.

“Run down schools in working-class Protestant areas have been struggling to evade the Minister’s cull, only to have her own agenda bulldozed through”.

Responding to criticism cited in the media, Chief Executive Officer of Comhairle na Gaelscolaochta, Sen Coinn, reiterated that there are no vacant Irish-medium places in any of the four areas concerned.

“These are the first Irish-medium schools in these areas; therefore there is no danger of duplication of provision. Irish-medium schools are approved on exactly the same basis as English-medium schools in the Controlled, Catholic and Integrated sectors,” he said.

The Irish-medium Council CEO commented that parents in the four areas have many English-medium schools which they can choose for their children. Now for the first time they will have one Irish-medium option.

He added that there are as many as 10 primary schools in Ballymena Town alone: two Integrated, six Controlled and two Catholic primaries.

He pointed out that some of these schools had admitted fewer than 10 pupils in each of the last three years, whereas Irish-medium schools require a minimum of 12 pupils in their first year to qualify for DE funding.