CRAIGAVON councillors have put their weight behind a motion to lobby the Education Minister to reverse his decision in relation to increasing the capacity of Donacloney Primary School.
It comes in the same week that Education Minister John O’Dowd has acceded to the request of fellow Assembly member Stephen Moutray to meet with members of Donacloney School to discuss his decision not to award the school an extra class.
Mr Moutray said: “I am very pleased that Minister O’Dowd has agreed to meet with the Donacloney Primary School representatives given the work and the effort from our DUP team to try and have the Minister rethink and overturn his recent decision not to grant the additional class.
“Parents whose children have ultimately been refused a place at Donaghcloney because of his decision have been very exercised about this matter and rightly so, therefore we are delighted that the Minister will take time to hear from the principal and members of the board of governors about how their school has been impacted by this decision.”
“The meeting is due to take place in the coming weeks and undoubtedly we will be appealing to the Minister to look again at this development proposal and consider its request given the increasing population of Donaghcloney and the desire for people living locally to have their children educated locally.”
At Monday’s council meeting, Ulster Unionist Councillor Colin McCusker proposed a motion for council to write to the Education Minister and the Chief Executive of the SELB stating its support for Donacloney’s development proposal for an extra class.
Mr McCusker said: “I wrote to the Minister on behalf of all the grandparents and parents who contacted me in desperation as their children were unable to get a place at their local Primary School.
“While I got a reply from the Minister, I was deeply disappointed by the tone of the letter, in which he said, ‘The development proposal process is a legal process and there is no recourse for an appeal or review of my decision. My decision is therefore final’.
“This is the same Minister that said of consultation – ‘it clogs up the system’.
“It is this ‘So what’ attitude from the Minister that forced me and my party to bring the motion to the council in the hope that the Minister would listen to a statutory body, as it is clear he will not listen to the MP, MLAs and local councillors.”
Fellow UUP Councillor George Savage seconded the motion.
DUP Councillor Mark Baxter said: “The infrastructure is already in place as there were mobiles on the site before, so any argument about finances really will not stack up.
“Donacloney and Blackskull are growing. Families have settled here assuming their children could go to the local primary school as they have every year since the school opened in the 70s.
“The minister in his wisdom has decided that these children should travel as far away as Dromara to fill up places, which I have in writing from the department. That is shocking.
“There are 10 families now who have had to find alternate schools for their children and in some cases splitting their children up between schools. That’s a shambles.”
Mr Baxter said he had been prompted to start a petition because of the lack of movement from the Education Minister.
Sinn Fein Councillor Liam Mackle said: “The Minister has put the area plan in place. An extra classroom for Donacloney will have repercussions across the area and schools will have to be closed elsewhere.
“He won’t play populist politics with this.”
DUP’s Darren Causby said the Minister was sending people out of his own constituency with his ‘unfortunate attitude’.
SDLP’s Joe Nelson agreed to support the motion as he didn’t like to see the closure of rural schools.
Sinn Fein’s Jonny McGibbon said unionists were using the issue as an opportunity to present a political agenda and ‘beat the Minister with a stick’.
Unionists responded by saying they were representing their constituents.
A vote was taken on the motion with 13 voting in favour, none against and eight abstentions.