Call for more Irish nurseries ‘out-of-date’

UUP MLA Rosemary Barton
UUP MLA Rosemary Barton

A three-year-old report which called for more investment in Irish language pre-schooling is too out of touch with current budgetary pressures to be implemented, the UUP has said.

Research into the matter was begun in 2015 and delivered to the Department for Education (DE) in 2016.

It recommended that the DE considers increasing the number of statutory Irish language nurseries and give existing ones more support.

The DE said it was preparing related ministerial advice when the assembly collapsed in 2017, but decided to publish it now in the absence of a minister.

At the time the report was completed there were 43 Irish-medium pre-schools with almost 900 DE-funded pupils, the BBC reported.

But UUP education spokeswoman Rosemary Barton MLA said the recommendations were three years out of date.

“Education budgets are under immense pressure as can be seen in the record number of schools in a deficit position.” The best way to protect children’s education, she added, was “to restore devolution as soon as possible”.

Former Education Minister, DUP MLA Peter Weir, said the report was never shown to him.

“Whilst there may be criticism of the Department for the delay in publishing the report, the real focus should be that for the last two years there has been no Minister or Executive in place to take any decisions,” he said.

Such reports will go ‘unactioned’ as long as Sinn Fein continues to “boycott” devolution, he added.

But Sinn Féin MLA Karen Mullan asked why it took an “astonishing” three years to publish the report. “This raises the question, is the report and its recommendations out of date and obsolete?” she added.