Court told of ‘improper motive’ to close Clintyclay Primary School in Tyrone

Clintyclay PS in Clonmore
Clintyclay PS in Clonmore

An improper motive allegedly lies behind the proposed closure of the first Catholic school in Northern Ireland to attempt a transformation to integrated status, the High Court heard on Thursday.

Lawyers for the parents of a child at Clintyclay Primary School made the claim against the body which oversees the Catholic maintained sector.

The allegation forms part of a wider legal challenge to Education Minister John O’Dowd’s decision to shut the school in Dungannon, Co Tyrone.

Mr Justice Treacy was due to hear the first stage in a bid to have the move reversed.

But because of the complexity and breadth of the case it was instead decided to move straight to a full application at a later date.

In October last year Mr O’Dowd announced he was approving Clintyclay Primary’s closure 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 to be subjected to judicial scrutiny.

During a brief hearing today counsel for the Minister said that a 12-page affidavit filed on behalf of the applicant contains just one paragraph about the Department of Education.

“Everything else refers to the CCMS and their involvement,” he said.

“They seek to make the point that it affects the Department’s reasoning in various ways.

“There’s a clear allegation that the CCMS acted with an improper motive.”

Ronan Lavery QC, for the parents taking the legal challenge, agreed with the assessment.

“There’s an allegation of improper motive in the statement which I’m sure they will want to respond to,” he told the court.

Mr Justice Treacy agreed to list the case for a full, two-day hearing at a later date suitable to the parties.