Are civil servants still running Stormont?

That was the question asked by Councillors as further setbacks to the Brookeborough Shared Education campus were discussed at a meeting of Fermanagh and Omagh District Council on April 9.

The removal of the Fresh Start Funding by the British Government for the long-awaited shared education campus for the Fermanagh village was discussed at a meeting of the full Council in Enniskillen.

During the discussion, Councillor Sheamus Greene, Sinn Féin, described ‘officials’ as “extraordinarily obstructive”, adding: "They have went about this whole project in a terrible way".

He continued: “I have been involved with this project since the start. It was proposed that there was going to be a shared campus, there was going to be a small football pitch and ground made available to put a MUGA on the campus site that the community could use in the evenings, and a preschool building on the site as well.

“Five years ago, the Boards of Governors were brought in and told they had four days to make up their minds, the rules had changed, there was going to be a smaller site, no football field, no ground made available to the council for the MUGA, a decision had to be made in four days as a business case was going in.”

He described how the Board of Governors reluctantly agreed to changes five years ago and now further changes have been put to them, including processing the site without a preschool building.

Councillor Greene said: “As far as I’m concerned, civil servants do not make that decision, and I don’t think they have any right after five years to put that ultimatum to the schools.

"It has caused a lot of friction and trouble in two schools that have worked for generations together in shared education."

He proposed that a letter be sent to the Education Minister calling for the original agreement proposed for the site to go ahead.

Ulster Unionist Councillor, Victor Warrington, described the news that the project funding has been removed as “disappointing”.

He said: “The letter that has come back from the minister is disappointing. It’s obvious that the money is just not there.

"Yes, we can go back to the Minister and request that we reinstate the decision taken five years ago.

"I suppose the question was asked, was this [decision] made by a minister, or was it made by civil servants?

“Well, obviously [given] the government here in Northern Ireland over the last number of years, that is a difficult question to answer, as a lot of the time we have been in the hands of civil servants, and they have been making decisions.”

Councillor Warrington welcomed the news that the Department of Education will move the project to their conventional works scheme.

“One thing that is brighter at the end of the letter is that they are going to continue to advance in the planning and the design, and proceed to construction when they are affordable.

“I don’t think we will be holding our breath as that goes forward, as there are ten of these shared education schools out there.

"Everybody will be fighting for their own corner and I don’t think it will be happening any time soon.”