Transport Minister Danny Kennedy has given a firm commitment to look into the potentially lethal 60 mile per hour speed limit at the entrance to a Derry primary school.
Mr. Kennedy was speaking as he arrived at Groarty Integrated Primary School to meet with concerned school staff and parents to discuss a range of safety concerns.
The meeting was organised by SDLP Derry City Councillor John Boyle, who attended he meeting along with Foyle MLA Mark H Durkan.
A representative from Transport NI was also in attendance at the meeting, which was held at the school shortly after the end of the school day.
Just moments before the Minister’s arrival, one clearly anxious mother spoke of how her child was narrowly hit by a passing motorist who then shouted at her.
Staff and parents at the school expressed anxiety over the speed limit, the lack of a footpath on the country lane leading to the school gates and lack of parking at the school.
Speaking on arrival, Mr. Kennedy said: “I’m happy to be here with officials to look at any measures we can do to improve the situation.
“We understand it’s a school, a very busy stretch of road, and it’s a relatively narrow one, so there are issues that are challenging, but we will attempt to try and make progress.”
Groarty P.S. Principal Nick Tomlinson said that upon taking up his post this academic year he immediately identified tackling the road and traffic issues at the school- which have been the subject of a campaign stretching back more than a decade- as something he too wanted to prioritise.
Mr. Tomlinson said: “We’re in a situation that accidents at other schools have happened and how many more have to happen before the safety of the children is put before other considerations. That should be the top priority.
“It’s so evident when you come to the school and when you are in a position where you are responsible for the health and safety of the children, parents and families it is something that stands out and to my mind needs dealing with and needs dealing with quickly before we end up reacting to an accident. We would rather do something now to ensure we can keep them safe.”
He added that the mornings and afternoons would be the main times when the danger was most evident.
“Some families don’t have access to cars or money for taxis and they walk their children to school and I think they should be able to walk their children to and from school safely.
“I know from talking to parents they fear bringing their children to school by foot.
“I think we have a responsibility to take that fear away.”
Gordon Elder, chairperson of the board of governors at the school, added: “We have situation here that has been ongoing for a long number of years.
“Unfortunately we have had a series of folk looking at the problem and we are always hopeful that there is going to be a solution.
“We have come so far now. There was a serious incident recently at Cloughmills and I think that maybe that has awakened thinking. I don’t know if that will affect our situation.
“The roadway is narrow as you can see. We have warning lights on either side of it and the WELB and the DoE have been trying to help us, but we feel we have a problem with folk coming to leave kids off in the morning and picking them up in the afternoon.”
Mr. Elder said that given the speed limit, it was only down to the vigilance of parents and staff that there had not been fatal accidents on the Groarty Road.
Colr. Boyle said his own father had attended the same school in the 1940s and had told him the road hasn’t changed much since then.
“That’s a clear indictment of the situation as it stands currently and I am very hopeful the Minister will listen to the concerns of the parents, take them on board and treat this matter as a priority,” he said.