Half a century after Northern Ireland’s then Prime Minister Terence O’Neill opened a Portadown primary school, DUP First Minister Arlene Foster has visited the same school to mark its golden anniversary.
In 1966, Captain O’Neill was halfway through his six-year term as Prime Minister when he opened Birches Primary School.
On Monday the new DUP Education Minister Peter Weir, who accompanied Mrs Foster, took the opportunity to reassure parents, pupils and schools which operate under the Dickson Plan that he is not seeking to dismantle the unique educational system which operates in that part of Co Armagh.
Mrs Foster said that in light of the fact that Capt O’Neill had opened the school half a century ago, she was “particularly honoured to be here today as First Minister to celebrate this very special golden anniversary with you”.
Mr Weir praised the educational establishment as “an excellent school at the heart of the community, that has produced excellent educational delivery for half a century”.
He added: “It is important that lessons are learned to improve our system, but also that we protect what is working within our system.
“During the last mandate there were considerable concerns created by the threat to effectively dismantle the Dickson Plan system.
“The Dickson Plan has proved very successful in this local area with strong support from the local community.
“I want to assure people locally that I will be offering support and assurance for the continuation of the Dickson Plan system, and will be ushering in a period of educational stability on the issue.
“This is something that works, and so I will ensure that the Dickson Plan is not removed either directly or undermined through stealth, and that any threat is now lifted.”