The reason Caitriona Ruane has been struggling to fulfil her party brief to end selection in schools is that she lacks the power to do so. However she does have carte blanche in allocating budgets, which is one reason why she has decided (albeit conditionally) to fund four new Irish language schools in Magherafelt, Kilkeel, Limavady and Ballymena.
Yet as the Belfast Telegraph noted yesterday, there is a 27% vacancy rate in that sector already. In fact there are some 50,000 vacant places the primary sector overall, with the Integrated sector being one of the few that has substantial turn away figure of 650 pupils.
Now the approval is conditional on getting the admission rates, so the Minister has made it clear that the schools will not be funded if they haven’t got the admissions to justify it. But 50 k unfilled places suggests that if Ms Ruane wants to continue open some schools, she is going to have to close others.
And if that were to be the case, the resources she would then free up ought to move to where there is demonstrable demand. But, if those who have played Alan’s Fantasy d’Hondt are right, then the Department should stay with her after the next election, so there is little possibility of a rival slicing back the Irish medium sector after the next Assembly election.
This looks like an attempt to get a few last goodies through the door before the CSR in October closes the door on substantial future investment by putting 15%-16% squeeze on overall budgets. Her political gamble here is that in continuing to roll the sector out, she forsakez the consolidation of what capacity that’s already there.