“We may be in breach of European law..” – redux

As the post-primary school principal, Sean Bradley, emphasises at the end of this Politics Show report, the issue only applies to over-subscribed schools.. but it isn’t going away. He also suggests a compromise [approx 3mins in] – “I would be more comfortable if the law was more clear right around the border region, in the sense that all pupils were funded from where they live..” Although that might make it more clearly a cross-departmental issue requiring NI Executive approval. The Northern Ireland Education minister, Sinn Féin’s Caitríona Ruane [did the minister declare an interest? – Ed], also repeats her concerns that “We may be in breach of European law [currently]”, an issue first raised in a departmental circular, although several people disagree with that assessment – including the legal advice sought by the BBC [approx 6min 20 sec in] ANYhoo.. the minister promises legislation ahead.. which would require Asssembly approval.. whether or not those proposals are cost-neutral..

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  • Debbie

    Why build a huge school in an under subscribed area? Unless of course it was done with an eye on Lifford, and implementing Sinn Fein policy. It is totally unfair to expect NI parents to pay taxes to the British exchequer and then allow children from another jurisdiction in to a school before those of the tax paying parents. It is a total outrage!

    Ruaine needs to understand, she holds no office in Lifford, she is a BRITISH minister, and her duty lies north of the border, if she can’t understand that perhaps she ought not to be in the job at all.

    Sheesh!! Some people.

  • DC

    If schools are undersubscribed and still in receipt of the same level funding surely the debate could move onto dropping the ladder down into free nursery provision rather than scout around for more pupils of that age. A reconfiguration of service provision levels may be more appropriate especially if it can be State funded.

    It’s quite a piecemeal and patchy job that the Education Minister is doing and her involvement so far is hardly confidence inspiring. The issue rests with appropriate stock-taking of the education sector looking not just at post-primary but the whole system, factoring into play nursery arrangements in the context of immigration and population shifts with a view to maintaining same funding levels but providing to more with that money.

    Build out further to reviewing, rather than bolting on to an education system needing reviewed wholesale.

  • Eireannach Saolta

    Its called Europe without Borders get over it

  • Mick Fealty


    The issue Sean Bradley is flagging up is twofold: clarity on who pays; and some way of regularising the situation so that parents are not forced to lie about where they live.

    I recall working in a school in northern Belgium which took pupils from German, Netherlands and Belgium. By the looks of the cars in the staff car park I would say they employed staff from all of those places too. But it was a church school, and therefore in a position to deal directly with the parents re funding individual students.

    The devil (or God, if you prefer) is in the details… Once again we have laudable ambition that comes without any detail whatsoever…

  • k

    Debbie, a considerable number of people live south of the border but work in the north and thus pay taxes in both jurisdictions. If they’re not entitled to use northern facilities like schools or hospitals then please stop taxing them!

  • Mark McGregor

    To me this is indicative of the Europe we live in beyond our local circumstance. Borders effectively ceases to exist for capital but when it gets to a human level they are reimposed, whether it be the rights of children to be educated either side or workers to move easily across them, once it gets to people the flexibility and ease that business is able to avail of evaporates.

    Mick, your Belgian model does have some broader similarities that might be worth teasing out, in Belgium education is provided on a Federal level but minority groups in border regions will often send their children to school in a neighbouring province that does not receive their taxes iirc.

    Though I doubt this is as big an issue as is being made out.

  • Mark McGregor

    ‘Federal’ above should be ‘Regional’

  • Mick Fealty


    That was part of the Minister’s argument: unsurprisingly, since she falls into precisely that bracket. But would she require individual parents to prove they were also northern Irish taxpayers?

    Where there is not a shortage of places, no one locally is likely to make a fuss. But parents who pay northern taxes having their kids routinely debarred from a place in the school of their choice in favour of kids whose parents who don’t, may not go down as smoothly as the Minister hopes. Were the money to follow the student across the border, then there could hardly be the same controversy. But there is no evidence that the necessary work has been done on such a proposal to consider whether: a, it is possible; or b, the political will exists south of the border to make it happen.

    Note there are more than 400 ROI students in second level education in the NI system already (Bizarrely 174, or thereabouts, in Belfast). That is a highly irregular situation, apparently unaccounted for under the current system.

    As for Ms Ruane’s claim that we may be in breach of EU looks like it has no serious legal backers. At this stage it looks like little other than a rhetorical red herring.

    The border between northern Germany and southern Denmark, where German based students often study in German speaking Danish schools, might provide some useful policy mechanisms to regularise this kind of interpenetration.

  • Mark McGregor


    In addition to Schleswig/Holstein you might want to consider Gasperi/Gruber both have provided a guide on trans-border education albeit mainly on linguistic grounds.

  • ulsterfan

    If the Minister thinks we may be in breach of European Law that is a matter of resignation on her part .
    How can a Minister stay in office if he/she has a disregard for the law.

  • joeCanuck

    because, Ulsterfan, she inherited the situation and it’s not possible to fix it overnight?

  • DC


    In fairness though, those countries that you mention are part of monetary union with a good deal of their financial obligations resting in control of ECB at Frankfurt and before such arrangements they have, since the War, strived to work closely together in unison on common interests without any anti-nation-state sentiment.

    The way the current trends are going the Europeans may press to turn the screws to get certain fiscal arrangements harmonised at an EU-wide level too. This of course would preclude the UK as things remain in control of the Bank of England but would clearly make freedom to school where ever a lot more understood under the concept of the EU.

    To digress, re Germany, of interest, the RC Church’s ‘ne temere’ isn’t applicable.

  • Pete Baker


    The point missed by ‘ulsterfan’ is that there doesn’t appear to any such breach of European law with the current legislation to justify changing it.

    And the minister hasn’t elaborated on where she believes any such a breach “may be”..

    Although that may bring in the issue of competence..

  • Quagmire

    She is just paving the way for the future to be fair. The population of the island is set to dramatically increase over the next 20 years. It will be difficult to distinguish, for example, where Newry ends and Dundalk begins as more people move to the area and use the facilities that are closest to them. As time goes by the border will become less relevant indeed being seen more of a nuisance than anything else. Common sense will win the day.

  • barnshee

    “south of the border but work in the north and thus pay taxes in both jurisdictions. If they’re not entitled to use northern facilities like schools or hospitals then please stop taxing them! ”

    Then sir/madam you and/or your accountant are morons –you do not have to pay tax in both jurisdictions — search “double taxation relief” or similar on HRMC website