The principals of Groarty Integrated Primary and Gaeilscoil na Daróige have welcomed Derry City and Strabane District Council’s support for a proposed joint campus in Ballymagroarty.
The Education Authority recently indicated it wasn’t endorsing a joint application for share of £500m in shared education monies promised at Stormont House and ‘Fresh Start’, before forwarding the proposal to the Department of Education.
But at the council’s monthly meeting on Thursday Sinn Féin Councillor Eric McGinley proposed “that this Council writes to the EA seeking a reversal of the decision not to support the shared campus application submitted by Groarty Integrated Primary School and Gaelscoil Na Daróige”.
The motion was backed by nationalist councillors while unionists abstained.
Following the passing of the motion, the principals, Nick Tomlinson of Groarty Integrated, and Oisín MacEó, of Gaelscoil na Daróige, jointly stated: “We wish to provide a vibrant, pioneering alternative to the two traditional sectors, and we believe that people of varied religions or none have a right to be educated, through the Irish or English language, on a shared campus with an inclusive ethos, rather than a dominant ethos linked to either of the two main religious traditions. If our schools do not receive support there will be no alternative to Catholic Maintained schools in this part of the city.”
At Thursday’s meeting Councillor McGinley said the campus would build on existing collaboration between the two schools, which includes shared lessons and physical activities, including a joint soccer team.
“It would particularly encourage the development of the PUL [Protestant Unionist Loyalist] community in the area,” he added.
He said the department also had a responsibility to promote both Irish medium and integrated education.
SDLP councillor John Boyle said it was unacceptable pupils at Groarty Integrated Primary School were still being accommodated in a building his father went to school in ninety years ago.
“My father attended Groarty Primary School in the 1930s and the building there is the same building my father attended,” he said.
“That’s a terrible indictment,” said Councillor Boyle.
Independent councillor Darren O’Reilly also pledged support for what would be a “unique model” of education in the city. However, unionist councillors wanted more detail on why the bid was recommended for refusal.
“Are there any reasons why the EA wouldn’t support the application?” asked DUP Alderman Drew Thompson.
Councillor O’Reilly said he understood one of the cited reasons was lack of community support but said: ”I know it’s supported by the parents and teachers.”
SDLP councillor Gus Hastings said: “If we look at the area there is a requirement for a developer to leave space for a school. This is a golden opportunity for putting in place something the builders are expected to do in the long term.”
Independent councillor Gary Donnelly said: “Both principals are doing a tremendous job.”
He said he didn’t believe “children should be educated along religious lines” and that the council should send out a signal that there was community support for the bid.