Farry slapped down by DUP and SF over college funding

Supporters of St Mary's College campaigned against the proposed funding cut
Supporters of St Mary's College campaigned against the proposed funding cut

Stephen Farry’s cut to the funding of Northern Ireland’s two dedicated teacher training colleges has been overturned by the Executive.

After the Alliance Employment and Learning Minister’s budget was cut significantly in the budget, he had controversially withdrawn the ‘premia’ payment of £2 million which was split between Stranmillis and St Mary’s colleges.

On Thursday, the DUP and Sinn Fein brought the decision to the Executive, where it was overturned.

There has been a vocal campaign against the move by supporters of St Mary’s.

But many staff at Stranmillis were also furious at the minister’s decision. And the TUV leader Jim Allister had questioned why the Stranmillis board was itself not as vocal as St Mary’s in demanding that the funding be reinstated.

By overruling Dr Farry in this way, the DUP and Sinn Fein have once more demonstrated where real power lies in the Executive.

And the move will increase the public perception that the smaller parties have very limited clout if they attempt to do something against the wishes of the DUP and Sinn Fein.

Dr Farry condemned his Executive colleagues for the decision, arguing that it went against the Executive’s stated commitment to promote more shared education.

He said: “Today’s Executive decision further reinforces the reality that Northern Ireland continues to operate a system of teacher training that is not fit for purpose. It remains financially unviable, it is not keeping pace with world-class standards, and it is not in keeping with the creation of a shared and inclusive future.”

He accused the Executive of “continuing to divert scarce resources into propping up an unsustainable and segregated system” and ensuring that inflated numbers of teacher training places are funded by taxpayers “in order to artificially maintain the viability of the teacher training colleges”.

But Sinn Fein’s West Belfast MP Paul Maskey said the Executive’s decision was correct. He said: “I would like to acknowledge the support of Martin McGuinness and Peter Robinson who brought this issue into the Executive.

“I would also thank all those people who campaigned so vigorously to save St Mary’s, those who signed petitions and those who took part in protests in support of the college.”

And Robin Swann, the UUP chairman of the Stormont committee which scrutinises Dr Farry’s department, also welcomed the restoration of the premia payment.

The North Antrim MLA said: ”This will now allow the minister to take forward a full and open review of teacher training provision in Northern Ireland. Such a review would have been impossible had the minister’s self-imposed financial threat remained in place.

“I have challenged the minister recently to ensure he plays his role in getting Stranmillis and St Mary’s together so a joined-up approach can be found.”