EDUCATION Minister John O’Dowd has hit back at claims he was effectively “holding a gun to the head of Portadown College” by not selecting it for a new build project.
The claim was made by the DUP MLA Stephen Moutray, who criticised the Minister after neither Portadown nor Lurgan College was included on a £220m new build project list for the whole of Northern Ireland.
But Mr O’Dowd stressed that he has made “no decisions” on the future shape of education in Portadown and underlined that he is currently considering the draft Area Plan from the Southern Education and Library Board (SELB). “I take great exception to Mr Moutray’s use of language and his claims that I am effectively ‘holding a gun’ to the head of Portadown College. The successful projects were identified after a robust and transparent selection process, the details of which are freely available on my department’s website,” said Mr O’Dowd.
“As for the future of Portadown College, let me be quite clear that I have made no decisions on the future shape of education in the town. I am on record, however, as saying that any decisions I do take will be in the best interests of all pupils concerned. I am currently considering the draft Area Plan from the Southern Education and Library Board and hope to make a decision on the way ahead in the coming weeks.
“In the mean time I would encourage Mr Moutray to play a more constructive role in shaping the future of education in the town. Personal attacks will do nothing to advance the interests of children in Portadown.”
Mr Moutray said that the Minister was making clear that neither school would get a new building until they signed up for controversial collegiate proposals which would see five schools in the Portadown area merging under one principal and board of governors.
The DUP man also claimed the Minister has an “ideological obsession with promoting the Irish medium, comprehensive and integrated sectors at the expense of the controlled sector in Upper Bann”.
Mr O’Dowd robustly defended his announcement pointing out that he provided capital funding for projects across all education sectors in Northern Ireland.
He added, “I was stunned at the comments made by Mr Moutray and carried in last week’s edition of the Portadown Times.
“As Mr Moutray should have been aware, since last summer I have announced a total of 40 school building projects across all sectors – four of which are in the Upper Bann constituency. This is despite the reduction in funding available to me because of cuts imposed by the British Government.
“There are many school building projects I would like to fund, however I have had to make difficult decisions on how to invest the money available to me. Not only did I announce 22 new school building projects last week, I also opened the schools enhancement programme for applications. This will make up to £4 million available to schools to refurbish or extend existing schools.”