School fight bolstered by court decision

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Campaigners trying to save Clintyclay Primary School from closure have been bolstered by the speed at which a court decided they should have the right to legally challenge the Education Board’s move.

Children at the Clonmore school were devastated in October when Education Minister John O’Dowd announced their school was to close, in a spite of a bid by the Board of Governors to change the school to integrated status to attract more pupils.

It would have been the first Catholic school to transform to official integrated status.

However, on Thursday, a hearing to decide on the campaigners’ right to appeal was cut short at Belfast High Court

Because of the complexity and breadth of the case, Justice Treacy decided to move straight to a full appeal at a later date.

A spokesperson for the families fighting to save the school said they were greatly heartened by the court decision, but said they still had a long battle ahead.

“We were surprised that the right to appeal was given so quickly”, said the spokesperson shortly after the hearing ended. “Based on the court proceedings today we would be quite confident of now winning the judicial review.

“However, it can all depend on the judge and it is obviously a very complex case.

“At least, we now have the right to thrash out all the points of our argument to save the school. If we had no case to mount, the judge would have drawn a line under it today and thrown it out.

“The judge also set two days for the appeal, which shows he understands there are many points to debate.”

At the hearing, lawyers for the parents of a child at Clintyclay Primary School claimed an improper motive lay behind the proposed closure.

Counsel for the Minister of Education 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.

One of the reasons CCMS was seeking the school’s closure is because it has less than 30 pupils - well below the department’s figure of 105 in its sustainable schools’ policy.

However, the move towards integrated status attracted more interest in the school and the numbers had risen to 33 this year and had been expected to rise even further next year based on expressions of interest.