Calls have been made for “a serious re-evaluation” of the education minister’s priorities as it was revealed only 14 pupils attend a funded Irish language secondary school in Dungiven, Co Londonderry.
Speaking out after the news emerged in a response to an Assembly Question, DUP MP Gregory Campbell blasted Sinn Fein – whose minister John O’Dowd runs the education department – as “money-wasters”.
Mr O’Dowd’s revealed in his response to Mr Campbell’s question that the “Education Authority has advised that there are currently 14 pupils enrolled in Gaelcholaiste Dhoire and that three of the pupils live within three miles of the school and eleven live over three miles from it”.
Mr Campbell said: “At these times of budget cuts, there is absolutely no justification for continuing such ideologically-driven waste”.
Mr Campbell described it as “one of the most preposterous money wasting projects to emanate from the education minister”.
“What these figures demonstrate is that whilst Sinn Fein and others are content to pump more and more money into Irish Medium Education the demand for it simply does not exist,” he added.
“The significance of the ‘three miles’ reference is that the pupils who live beyond that boundary have their transport paid for them by the Education Authority.
“That an Irish Language school in a town such as Dungiven can attract a grand total of three pupils within three miles of its front door and a further 11 from the surrounding countryside stands as ample testimony to just how the wider population view this project.
“The minister has engaged in a transparent waste of money for years in this area.”
Mr Campbell went on to add: “I never recall in all the time that I have been involved in politics, an education minister opening a school because there were three local families who wanted to send children to it.
“He closes them down when they have a hundred.”
Prior to the opening of the new school Co Londonderry, the only post-primary school teaching in Irish is the Colaiste Feirste in Belfast.
According to the Department of Education website there are currently 29 Irish-medium schools in Northern Ireland and a further 10 Irish-medium units attached to English-medium host schools.
It also said there are a total of 5,256 pupils in Irish-medium education in 2014/15.
This includes 885 children attending Irish Medium pre-school settings, 3,458 primary school children and 913 in post primary schools.