Peter Weir: Equality and no favouritism for Irish language schools

Former Education Minister John ODowd with pupils at Irish language school Bunscoil Bheann Mhadag�in in north Belfast
Former Education Minister John ODowd with pupils at Irish language school Bunscoil Bheann Mhadag�in in north Belfast

The new Education Minister has a track record of lambasting his predecessor John O’Dowd on Irish language provision in schools.

But on Thursday Peter Weir was entirely ministerial in his commentary on the issue.

“I will treat all cases and sectors equally and without favouritism,” he told the News Letter when asked how he would deal with the Irish language question.

He added: “We believe in equality aspect across all areas of education in Northern Ireland where it does not exist at present.”

Two months ago he accused outgoing Sinn Fein Education Minister John O’Dowd of using an eight-figure tranche of cash to help indulge an “obsession” with Irish language schools.

As DUP education spokesman Mr Weir was reacting to news that a £40m package of funding had been made available in March to assist with building projects covering 10 different schools, two of which are Irish language schools.

Mr O’Dowd earned the ire of unionists in 2014 for approving an Irish language school in Dungiven, Co Londonderry, which only had 14 pupils.

Last year he was also under fire for approving the relocation of an Irish language school with 38 children to the site of a former high school – which he had previously closed down because it had only 140 pupils.

Mr Weir, MLA for North Down, hailed the £40m as a “much-needed boost in our school estate”.

But he said that by including Irish medium schools as 20 per cent of the new projects, “the minister has demonstrated a continued obsession with Irish-medium [that is, Irish language] new-builds at the expense of other sectors”.

The DUP launched an education policy paper in Armagh last month.

It promised to give greater autonomy to schools, with a fundamental shift from centrally controlled expenditure. It would place special educational needs (SEN) schools in the same budgetary position as mainstream schools, ensuring equality across all sectors.

The plan would give schools the freedom to create more individualised pathways matched to individual needs.

It proposed to change local GCSE grading in line with Great Britain changes, to work for equality among education sectors – and to work towards a single education system.