In a welcome and important judgement yesterday, the Northern Ireland appeal court ruled that Peter Weir had been entitled to refuse an Irish language primary school’s bid to relocate premises.
Mr Weir, a DUP MLA, had as education minister rejected a plan to move from its 117-year-old building in west Belfast, which parents of pupils feel is inadequate.
There are serious funding and structural issues facing education in Northern Ireland, not least because Sinn Fein collapsed Stormont two years ago. There are serious issues also because of the fact that educational provision is duplicated and inefficient, given the Province’s sectarian divide.
British governments over decades have generously facilitated and funded this divide. Latterly, there has been particularly generous funding of Irish language schools, which in some cases have opened with pupil numbers much lower than in other schools that have had to close.
It is notable, and troubling, that in the judicial review case that was taken against Mr Weir he was said not only to have acted irrationally but to have “failed to comply with a statutory duty to develop Irish medium education”.
The details of this case, though, are not even its most important feature. It comes amid a growth of judicial review across the UK as a method of constraining ministers. We elect politicians to power. While there must always be limits to that power, ministers must also have significant leeway to govern.