O’Dowd: subservient relationship from unionists to grammars

Published: 26 Jun 2014 14:000 comments

EDUCATION Minister John O’Dowd has suggested that DUP MLA Lord Maurice Morrow’s “attitude” could be part of the reason why there has been a “failure” to date to deliver a new build for Devenish College.

John O'Dowd.

In an adjournment topic on post-primary education in Fermanagh, brought forward to the Assembly on Tuesday by Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA Tom Elliott, Mr. O’Dowd told Lord Morrow: “You are a classic example of how not to influence someone in a good way. You excel at it. When you approach Ministers with the attitude that you approach me with, perhaps that is why there was a failure to deliver Devenish until I came into office.”

The debate on post-primary education in the County lasted late into the evening on Tuesday with both the Western Education and Library Board (WELB) and the Catholic Council for Maintained Schools (CCMS) once again coming under fire.

Referring to the controversial proposal to amalgamate Portora Royal with Collegiate Grammar Lord Morrow said Mr. O’Dowd now had the opportunity to “succeed where WELB has failed”.

Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA, Sean Lynch questioned why WELB had “not facilitated the building of a working relationship between the schools”.

“That would be a much better approach to creating fundamental change than forcing organisations together,” he submitted.

“No one can escape the frustrations and anger felt in school communities throughout the county. The governing authorities must manage through engagement and by listening to school communities. I have no doubt that the Minister will take on board their views when the consultation period closes.”

His party colleague Phil Flanagan said the proposed merge was very viewed by many as “an aggressive takeover”.

And he referred too, to the delays for Devenish College’s new school.

“The issues facing this school will not all be solved by a new build,” he added, “Without agreement on a way forward for the controlled sector, Devenish will remain in a difficult position.”

And he said local communities were being left to come up with solutions to save their schools.

“It is striking that some of the primary schools want to work together but the managing authorities are resisting it, yet, when schools do not want to work together, the managing authorities are forcing it upon them. That tells us everything that we need to know about what is going on with the managing authorities in Fermanagh,” he said.

Mr. O’Dowd said the biggest problem facing the controlled sector in Fermanagh was a “subservient relationship with the voluntary grammar sector” by the unionist community.

“It has been detrimental to attitudes towards education and perceptions around education, and it has been detrimental to non-selective schools in the controlled sector,” he submitted.

“Belated, misinformed challenges to me will not hide that. If you are serious about education for all and about the needs of communities, whether they be in Fermanagh or elsewhere, you need to review your own policy.”

The Minister was insistent that Devenish would get its new school.

“When I stand here in the Chamber and say that a new school will be built for Devenish, it does not suddenly appear. It does not magically pop up. There has to be a considerable amount of preparation work on business cases and economic appraisals. All of that takes time to go through.

In due course, there will be an economic appraisal from the Western Board about moving Devenish forward. I have committed in the past to building Devenish, and I will build Devenish going forward. “One challenge facing Devenish is falling enrolments. Is that surprising when elected representatives from the area stand up and tell people that it will never be built?” he added.

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