Northern Ireland

O'Dowd tribute to Boy's Model pupils over teacher case

John O'Dowd Image copyright PAcemaker
Image caption John O'Dowd paid tribute to children who backed the teacher

Education Minister John O'Dowd has paid tribute to pupils at the Boys Model School in Belfast who spoke up for their teacher, a Sinn Féin councillor.

The teacher has not returned to work after being the subject of threats.

Her employment at the school in the loyalist Ballysillan area was objected to by the Protestant Coalition group.

Speaking in Assembly Question Time, Mr O'Dowd said the pupils who had backed her on social media sites had demonstrated "courage and vision".

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

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

In a joint statement on Tuesday, the school and the Belfast Education and Library Board said: "The board of governors of Belfast Boys' Model School, the principal and BELB officers have been actively engaged in meetings to resolve this matter expediently in the best interests of the staff member, pupils and wider school community.

"All parties remain committed to supporting the staff member concerned.

"Further engagement is planned in relation to this issue. The board of governors and the BELB recognise their duty to put the needs of staff and pupils first throughout this process."

Education and Skills Authority

Meanwhile, in reply to a question from the DUP's Breanda Hale, the education minister said he was on the verge of rehiring staff and reconstituting 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 put a paper in front of the executive on ESA in 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 4627 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".

'Messing about with politics and sport'

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.

Carál Ní Chuilín 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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