A legal challenge against the merger of two post primary schools in North Belfast on the grounds that it would deprive pupils of a single-sex Catholic ethos non-grammar education commenced this week at the High Court in Belfast.
In 2015 the then Education Minister in Northern Ireland, John O’Dowd
MLA, approved the merger and change of enrolment of a number of post
primary schools in North Belfast and the Glengormley areas arising out
of proposals made by the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS).
Included in such proposals was the merger of the Little Flower Girls’
School and Saint Patrick’s College, Bearnageeha.
Under the proposals, the Little Flower Girls’ School, a
Catholic girls’ school, and St Patrick’s College, a Catholic boys’
school, will amalgamate to form a new 1,119 co-educational post primary
The move would see the two schools merge from the start of the
2017/2018 academic year next September. Speaking at the time about his
decision, Minister O’Dowd said “The children and young people of North
Belfast and Glengormley deserve equality of access to sustainable and
viable schools capable of effectively delivering the full statutory
requirements of the Entitlement Framework”.
He continued: “This suite of Development Proposals provides for
strong and sustainable education provision for the future that will meet
the needs of all pupils in the area and provide them with greater
choice and opportunity to access a broad and balanced curriculum. These
proposals are the result of several years of planning and I commend CCMS
and the schools involved for their work in this regard. It has been a
challenging road for all concerned, but I am satisfied that my decisions
will future proof Catholic provision in this area for many years to
However, since details of the merger have come to light, a petition
of over 2,000 signatures has been sent to the office of the current
Education Minister Peter Weir, calling for a reversal of this decision.
Last year the parents of a pupil at the Little Flower Girls’ School
sought a judicial review of the decision. That action commenced this
week at the High Court in Belfast. Reports this week in the Irish News
newspaper in Belfast state that the court was told that Mr O’Dowd’s
decision removes “the option for children to attend a single-sex,
non-selective school with a Catholic ethos in that area. If [the
challenge] doesn’t succeed this will impact not only on pupils at Little
Flower at the moment, but also all the girls in future … That would be
hundreds of pupils.”
The judicial review challenge also contends the decision breaches an
obligation under the Northern Ireland Act 1998 to promote equality of
opportunity. Lawyers for the Department of Education insist there was no
requirement to carry out an equality impact assessment because
necessary steps had already been taken by the CCMS. The case is expected
to continue for a number of days.
Other changes that will come into effect from 1 September this year
will see Mercy College and Edmund Rice College become co-educational.
The Minister said that these proposals will provide a total of 4,900
Catholic maintained post-primary places in the North Belfast and
Glengormley area, of which 2,800 will be provided between the schools
involved in these proposals. The two Catholic grammar schools in this
area (St Malachy’s College and Dominican College) will provide the
remaining 2,100 places.