Ballycarrickmaddy Primary School (Lisburn)

Oral Answers to Questions — Education – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:30 pm on 31st January 2000.

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Photo of Seamus Close Seamus Close Alliance 2:30 pm, 31st January 2000

asked the Minister of Education when a start will be made to the building of a replacement school for the pupils of Ballycarrickmaddy Primary School, Lisburn, County Antrim.(AQO 185/99)

Photo of Martin McGuinness Martin McGuinness Sinn Féin

No start date can be given at the moment. A replacement school for Ballycarrickmaddy Primary is being considered in the next school-building programme. I will announce the details of this in the next two weeks. The timing of the building work for any school included on the programme will then be dependent on the completion of the detailed planning arrangements.

Photo of Seamus Close Seamus Close Alliance

Does the Minister accept that temporary accommodation, particularly at primary school level, means that pupils in these schools — young children — are at a disadvantage compared to others who, in their formative years, go through the education process in, if I may put it this way, solid classrooms. They are greatly disadvantaged; indeed, one could almost say that there is an inequality in the way they are taught and in the potential for the development of their education. The Minister should be trying to ensure the removal of all temporary accommodation, in particular at primary school level. I accept that there is a financial consideration, but when we are talking about targeting social need, this is a prime example, and I believe the need starts in the classroom in the early, formative days. Would the Minister agree that steps should be taken to correct this inequality?

Photo of Martin McGuinness Martin McGuinness Sinn Féin

I agree that there is a serious situation in respect of schools and, in particular, with primary school accommodation. I am concerned about this problem. There are about 4,000 temporary classrooms throughout the North of Ireland — that is totally unacceptable. On taking up office I said that I wanted to move forward on the basis of equality, accessibility, excellence and choice, but I am reminded that I must also move forward on the basis of affordability. I realise that there is a problem that we need to address. I have made it clear in interviews that I have given to the ‘Belfast Telegraph’ and other media outlets that my Department is determined to address this issue.

Photo of Mr Ivan Davis Mr Ivan Davis UUP

Mr Bell and I have already made representation to the Minister on this matter. Ballycarrickmaddy Primary school is high on the South Eastern Education and Library Board’s list of priorities. Bearing in mind where this school is situated and the fact that it is 100 years old, I assume that the Minister will give it top priority.

Photo of Martin McGuinness Martin McGuinness Sinn Féin

I did meet with you and Billy Bell; it is important that Ministers meet with Assembly Members on matters like this, for people on the ground know the difficulties and problems that are faced by parents and pupils alike. I thank you for that meeting.

Over the next few days I will be announcing the capital building programme for this year, and this will be a substantial investment in the schools estate. Ballycarrickmaddy is on the competitors’ list, and I will be taking this into account when deciding which schools will be successful. Some schools will be disappointed; others will be pleased. No decisions have been taken yet, indeed, I have asked for the Education Committee’s views on the school capital building programme, and I have promised to take their views seriously before making a final decision.

Photo of Tommy Gallagher Tommy Gallagher Social Democratic and Labour Party

Does the Minister support the notion of equality of opportunity for all children, particularly in relation to their participation in creative and expressive work such as the Pushkin project, or does he support the locally elected representative who, in the words of our own famous poet

"crudely demeaned this very worthwhile work"?

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

Order. This question — and I have listened carefully to it — is substantially removed from the subject of the original question. I will leave it up to the Minister to determine how to respond.

Photo of Martin McGuinness Martin McGuinness Sinn Féin

I am very pleased to respond. Obviously this is a situation in which I have a considerable interest. I said at the time of the controversy that I believed that the best way to resolve it was locally, through discussion and dialogue in the community. In the intervening period I have been trying very hard to resolve this difficulty, and I am very hopeful indeed that it can be resolved in the short term.

Photo of Danny Kennedy Danny Kennedy UUP

Mr Speaker, in respect of the answers given earlier to my Colleague Mr Davis, the Member for Lagan Valley, may I ask the Minister of Education if he will ensure that the allocation of funding in the current capital building programme will accurately reflect the size of the various education sectors? In particular, will he urgently address the historic disparity in funding to the controlled sector? If necessary, will he undertake to withhold grant allocations until schemes are available in this sector?

Photo of Martin McGuinness Martin McGuinness Sinn Féin

The criteria for selection are of great importance, but the most important criterion is educational need, and that is educational need as reflected by the priority categories in the schools planning list, together with reports, advice and information from the inspectorate, the education and library boards, the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools and others with interests in schools. In addition, only those projects which have been planned for sufficiently at this stage can be considered for the programme.