Delegation seeks funding for Islandmagee school

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A cross-party delegation of Larne councillors is seeking to meet with the Education Minister to push for a new school to be built in Islandmagee.

As previously reported in the Times, minister John O’Dowd last year agreed to provide a long-awaited new school building to replace Kilcoan and Mullaghdubh primaries.

But it soon emerged that the North Eastern Education and Library Board (NEELB) also intended to merge Ballycarry PS with the other two schools, which provoked a backlash from the local community.

As a result, the board has decided not to move ahead with the proposal and it has been withdrawn from the approved list of capital projects.

In a letter from the Department of Education addressed to Larne Borough Council, Mr O’Dowd’s private secretary sought to clarify the situation.

She stated: “DE officials have made it clear to the NEELB that when consideration is being given to any future capital investment, it may put forward a new capital build proposals for Mullaghdubh PS and Kilcoan PS for consideration, should it consider it to provide a sustainable area solution.

“At that time, such a proposal would be considered alongside all other proposals, against the criteria set at that time. You will, however, appreciate there can be no guarantee that it will be successful.”

At the latest meeting of the council’s development committee, Alderman Roy Beggs submitted a motion – seconded by the Mayor, Councillor Maureen Morrow – that the local authority would request the minister to meet with a delegation of local elected representatives.

Ald Beggs said: “There was an attempt by someone in the Department to bring about the amalgamation of Ballycarry, Mullaghdubh and Kilcoan primary schools, but that has been successfully scuppered.

“We have two communities that deserve to have proper primary school facilities. It was the board’s intention in 2004 to close these schools and build a new one. The site was purchased for £1m ten years ago and it has just been sitting there ever since.”

Ald Beggs pointed out that the number of pupils enrolled at both schools is currently 122 – well above the 105 threshold at which the Department deems a school to be sustainable.

He also claimed that about 100 Islandmagee children are currently travelling to schools outside the area, mostly to Whitehead.

“There are children living across the road from the primary school in Whitehead who can’t get into it,” he added.

The Ulster Unionist member said he was “satisfied” that a new school in Islandmagee would be “viable and sustainable”.

And he hoped that councillors would be able to convince the minister to include the project in the next round of capital funding.

“If it doesn’t happen, we can shout discrimination,” he concluded.