Cllr Enright called on Minister Ruane to confirm or deny that the first dedicated bus in NI for the Irish Speaking secondary sector will be available to Irish Speaking children in Downpatrick from the 1st September.
The Education Minister has rejected an appeal from Downpatrick parents to fund a bus service for chidren hoping to attend an Irish language secondary school in Belfast.
‘This leaves children as young as 11 travelling two hours each way to Belfast and back again each day, yet the official target for a school journey in Northern Ireland is one hour’ explained Cllr Enright.
Over the last 4 years the Green Party has been part of a cross-party and cross-community group attempting to ensure that children attending Irish speaking secondary school did not continue to be deprived of school transport to and from Belfast and that they had the same facilities as all other regional colleges in Belfast like Lagan, Methody and Victoria have a dedicated network of buses, as do many other schools in Down District. These buses are provided over and above normal Translink services that are also accessed with a bus pass.
Green Party Cllr Cadogan Enright said “Sinn Fein Minister Caitriona Ruane has not been particularly helpful in this matter given that the campaign had the unequivocal support of the NI Human Rights Commission, The Children’s Commissioner and many members of her own party. She had ample opportunity to over-rule her back-ward looking civil servants who have found it hard to adjust to the idea that Irish Medium secondary education is entitled to the same support as the Integrated sector”.
Cadogan Enright pointed out that “There are approximately 2030 dedicated buses delivering children to and from school every day in the English language State, Catholic and Integrated sectors. These are mostly delivering children to distant schools that are not necessarily the nearest in their sector. This would never be allowed in England and Wales. However not one bus has ever been provided to the Irish Medium sector, despite the fact that children are seeking to travel to their nearest school. It was only last year that the department were forced through legal action to recognize the existence of Irish Medium Education in the transport regulations – 11 years after the legal requirement was placed upon them”.
“It is high-time for the Minister to concede that her civil servants have failed to encourage and facilitate Irish Medium education at secondary level as required under the 1998 British-Irish agreement in a similar manner to Integrated education, that no meetings ever took place to organize this legal duty with Education Boards and with Translink. It is high time the Minister followed the advice of the NI Human Rights Commissioner and sorted this out” Concluded Green Party Cllr Cadogan Enright.