Decision to close Clintyclay primary school in Dungannon ‘not biased’ court told

Clintyclay PS in Clonmore
Clintyclay PS in Clonmore

No evidence is available of demand for more integrated education near a Catholic school bidding to fend off closure by transforming to that sector, the High Court heard on Tuesday.

Counsel for Education Minister John O’Dowd claimed there were unfilled places and an overlap with other primary schools in the same area as Clintyclay PS.

Education Minister John O'Dowd.

Education Minister John O'Dowd.

He also rejected new suggestions that Mr O’Dowd may have displayed apparent bias in deciding to shut the school in Dungannon, Co Tyrone.

That move was compared with the Minister’s approval of a new Irish language secondary school near Dungiven, Co Derry - against advice from his department.

But Tony McGleenan QC argued: “We are comparing apples with oranges.”

The barrister insisted the decision on the Irish language secondary school had been to establish just the second of its kind in Northern Ireland.

Turning to the proposed Clintyclay shutdown, he said: “In this case we are looking at the closure of a non-viable primary school.”

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Another 17 other primary schools, either integrated or maintained, are located within five miles of Clintyclay, he stressed.

Mr O’Dowd is facing a judicial review challenge over the decision that it should shut later this year.

With its enrolment having dropped below 30 pupils , the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) had proposed that it should close.

An alternative proposal advanced by Clintyclay Primary’s Board of Governors to change the school’s management to grant-maintained integrated status was rejected.

At the time of his announcement the Minister said its enrolment numbers meant it was no longer sustainable.

Due to this long-term unsustainability transformation to integrated status is not a feasible option for Clintyclay Primary, he added.

Now, however, his decision is being subjected to judicial scrutiny.

Lawyers for the parents of a child at the school claim the process was flawed.

But during his submissions Mr McGleenan told the court: “There’s no evidence at this time what additional demand there is for integrated places in the area.”

He contended that an “overlap” exists within the sector.

One school in the area has 78 unfilled places, the barrister added.