EDUCATION Minister John O’Dowd has appeared to suggest that his decision to move an Irish language school in Fermanagh with over 40 pupils to the site of a high school he closed down was “political”.

Minister O’Dowd faced some criticism at the end of last year when he announced the plan to relocate Bunscoil an Traonaigh in Lisnaskea to the former Lisnaskea High School site.

Speaking during Question Time with Minister O’Dowd in the Assembly, Ulster Unionist MLA Alastair Patterson asked: “Does the Minister recognise that sustainability and affordability must also be taken into consideration when making decisions on Irish-medium against official advice and the recommendations of his ministerial advisory group, as in the case of Dungiven and, possibly, the Lisnaskea project, if it goes ahead?”

“Many people will come to the conclusion that he has made decisions on political and not evidence-based grounds,” added the Fermanagh-south Tyrone MLA.

In his response, Minister O’Dowd, a member of Sinn Fein, said: “This may come as a surprise to the Member: I am a politician and nothing other than a politician.”

“The Member will find that Ministers, by their very nature, are politicians and make political decisions. Every Minister in the Chamber does likewise, as they should. We should not be ashamed of practising politics; it has many positives and benefits for our society,” he said.

Minister O’Dowd used the opportunity, at his last Question Time as education minister, to thank his officials “for their sterling work”.

“Our society is much the better for the calibre of the officials in the Department of Education, but they all know, when they offer me advice, that I, as Minister, will make the decision. Sometimes that decision will be in agreement with their advice; at other times, it will not,” he said.

Minister O’Dowd stated that he stands by “each of my decisions on Irish-medium education on the basis that they were the right and proper thing to do to develop Irish-medium education”.

“I take into account in every decision that I make the related costs. I take into account all the issues that the Member raised before I make a decision. I believe that the decisions that I have made to date are the right and proper decisions, and I have no doubt that the Irish-medium sector will continue to go from strength to strength,” he said.

Bunscoil an Traonaigh was established 11 years ago and was situated in the grounds of the Lisnaskea Emmetts GAC at Barnhill. In 2007, it moved to modern mobile units at Drumbrughas North. The nursery school; Naíscoil an Traonaigh, was established on that site in 2008. It has just over 40 pupils, three teachers, three classroom assistants, a secretary and a cleaner.