War of words over plan for Irish school

A WAR of words has broken out over a Sinn Fein proposal to site an Irish language school in a predominantly unionist village outside Londonderry.

DUP MLA Gregory Campbell has lashed out at Sinn Fin's Raymond McCartney after he tabled a question to Education Minister Caitriona Ruane about the former Faughan Valley High School site in Drumahoe.

The question asked if she would consider the site – vacated when two Controlled schools merged – "as a location for a Meanscoil (Irish language secondary school)".

Mr Campbell said: "There are two issues arising from this question. The first is that it appears in some instances there is threat of closure to Irish language schools because of the lack of those interested in such a school, yet he seems to want another one opened.

"The second matter is that Mr McCartney also doesn't understand what the local response would be, if there were an approach to the Orange Order to see if a suitable site becoming available in Londonderry's Creggan estate, would they be interested in providing a boost to cultural education in that area?

"It seems that, in the words of an alcoholic beverage company's advert, Sinn Fin don't do irony....but if they did?"

However, Sinn Fin's Raymond McCartney hit back and said he could explain his rationale for posing the Assembly question to Minister Ruane.

Mr McCartney said: "It is the Sinn Fin belief that to maximise the numbers of pupils for a new Meanscoil in Derry, it would require children from Bunscoileanna in Dungiven and Strabane.

"We have come to this view after consultation with parents and educationalists in both areas. In the opinion of the parents, access to the school would be one of the key issues which will determine if their children would travel to Derry for education provision.

"They point out that travelling across to the West Bank would add significantly to travel time from both towns. Therefore the best place for all concerned would be a location in the Waterside. Rather than seek a new build, an existing school estate would make sound economic sense."

Mr McCartney continued by saying that in all the possibilities in the case, the Drumahoe site was just one consideration.

However, the Sinn Fin representative also hit back at Mr Campbell and said: "As for Gregory Campbell's assertion about the Orange Order, if you'll excuse the pun, he's comparing apples with oranges. Perhaps a better comparison would be if someone wished to site an Ulster-Scots school in any area of the city, I certainly would be supportive, be that Creggan, Gobnascale or anywhere else for that matter."

The former Faughan Valley High School site has long proved a point of contention. The local community association as well as other community leaders across the Waterside have lobbied for years in an attempt to get land released to them for badly needed community and sporting facilities, as has the council.