Minister praises pupils in Sinn Fein teacher row

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Education Minister John O'Dowd paid tribute to pupils of the Boys Model School in Belfast who had spoken up for their teacher, a Sinn Fein councillor, who had been the subject of a "hate campaign", on 4 February 2014.

The minister said the boys had demonstrated "courage and vision" through their comments on social media sites.

"I think it's important to remember that the objections came from outside the school," he added.

Fellow Sinn Fein MLA Mickey Brady said there was "an incredible irony" to the intimidation campaign given the financial support successive Sinn Fein ministers had given to state schools, including the Boys Model,

In reply to a question from the DUP's Brenda Hale, the minister said he was on the verge of having to re-hire staff and reconstitute education and library board senior management "all because the Executive has failed to agree ESA (the Education and Skills Authority).

ESA was intended to to be a unitary body to replace the five regional education boards, and the minister said he had had a paper in front of the Executive on ESA since April 2013.

Mr O'Dowd was asked by the SDLP's Dominic Bradley about the implementation of the Irish Medium Education Review.

The minister confirmed that all his department's policies were "Irish medium education proofed".

He said there had been a "dramatic rise" in the numbers of children being educated in the Irish medium sector, from 2,695 in 2002-03 to 4,627 in 2012-13.

Trevor Lunn of Alliance asked the minister if he would consider mounting a similar review for the integrated sector.

Mr O'Dowd said that would be "something I am happy to take under consideration".

Earlier in Question Time, the TUV's Jim Allister asked the Culture Minister if she supported a suggestion in a News Letter article that there should be a separate Northern Ireland association for amateur boxers.

Caral Ni Chuilin said an independent report had not come down in favour of a separate boxing body for the north.

"He needs to stop messing about with politics and sport. It is unbecoming for any member," she added.

Kieran McCarthy of Alliance asked the minster about the role her department could play in the the "new and revamped Exploris".

Ms Ni Chuilin said the aquarium in Portaferry, which had been threatened with closure, had an important role to play in tourism.

She said she, and her Executive colleagues, had yet to receive the revised business plan for Exploris.

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