Anger as O’Dowd declines to meet board of governors on classroom issue

EDUCATION Minister John O’Dowd’s decision to decline a meeting request on behalf of members of the Board of Governors of Donaghcloney Primary School has been meet with anger from Ulster Unionist representatives.

The meeting was requested following the Minister’s rejection of an application for an additional classroom at the school.

MLA Jo-Anne Dobson said: “By refusing our reasonable request for a meeting John O’Dowd is showing monumental arrogance and indifference towards the young families of Donaghcloney and the future of their primary school. I am incensed that the Minister can make such a far-reaching decision without any accountability or even discussion about it.

“I have written separately, on a number of occasions, to the Minister on behalf of parents who have approached my office. They are rightly angered at his decision to go against the recommendation of the SELB and turn down the application.

“This is yet another example where, like Orchard County Primary School, the SELB was supportive of a school expanding, yet the Minister arrogantly turns it down.

“This level of arrogance from a Minister is unacceptable.”

However, in a written response to Mrs Dobson’s request, Mr O’Dowd stressed that the decision to decline an extra classroom had been part of a “legal process.

He explained: “I appreciate your consistuents’ disappointment at my decision to turn down this proposal but my consideration of the development propposal fully examined all the issues relating to the proposed increase in line with my statutory duties, policies and processes.”

The Education Minister added: “The development proposal is a legal process and there is no recourse for an appeal of my decision. In light of this, a meeting at this time would not prove useful and I must therefore decline your request.”

Mr O’Dowd’s response was not deemed satisfactory by Councillor Colin McCusker, who said: “I am absolutely disgusted with the response from the Education Minister. The tone of his letter is very telling. As a local Councillor it is my responsibility to articulate the concerns of my constituents and to make representation to Government Ministers when they make decisions which have a detrimental impact on local communities.

“To be dismissed out of hand, and be told ‘My decision is therefore final’, tells me the Minister is not prepared to listen to any other point of view other than his own.

“The Minister is refusing to listen to the concerns of the local people in Donacloney, and local councillors, and people are beginning to perceive John O’Dowd as a Minister determined to target villages that are looked upon as being Unionist.

“It is obvious from this letter that Sinn Fein want to destroy small rural communities, such as Donacloney, and this subtle downgrading of local primary schools is the start of such destruction.

“Parental choice must be maintained, and the increasing demand for enrolment at Donacloney illustrates how popular this school has become.”