Loreto Grammar School decision “an abuse of power”

As the BBC reports, Belfast High Court has delivered a damning ruling in the judicial review of the Northern Ireland Education Minister, Sinn Féin’s Caitriona Ruane’s decision not to fund a £14.6million new build for, Catholic, Loreto College Loreto Grammar School, Omagh.  [corrected school name]

From the BBC report

…Justice McCloskey concluded that the conduct, delay and inactivity of the minister and department officials frustrated the legitimate expectation of the governors that a new Loreto Grammar School, financed by public funding, would be built on the existing site by 2010 at the latest.

“An unjustifiable breach of trust has occurred,” the judge said.

He further found that no proper consideration was given to the governors’ expectations when the relevant ministerial decisions were made.

The judge said: “I consider that the careful, thoughtful and conscientious consideration which was required of the minister and departmental officials concerned was manifestly absent and has not been demonstrated.” [added emphasis]

He also indicated his intention to quash a decision that Loreto’s proposed building project was non-compliant with the Sustainable Schools Policy criteria.

Update  The lengthy ruling is now available online.

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  • Pat Mc Larnon

    This decision should be appealed with immediate effect.

  • Omagh….West Tyrone…..where SF has 3 seats, DUP 2 and a (retiring) Independent 1.
    TheSDLP is of course expected to take back the Independent seat.
    I suspect that the vast majority of the parents of the pupils at the school will be voting SF or SDLP in six weeks time.
    This is another example of bad governance (Conor Murphy) and might actually help the SDLP a little in the area. The SDLP of course have like their fellow left leaning party SF have an education policy quite different from the unionist parties.
    Will it persuade a single parent of a child at Loreto in Omagh to go out and vote for UUP or DUP? No.
    They could of course vote for AP which has a different education policy again. But as of this afternoon they cant. According to APs website, West Tyrone is one of only two constituencies without a AP candidate.
    Which is odd because that was their best constituency in the four nationalist/republican constituencies west of the Bann. In fact about 45% of the AP vote in these four constituencies was in West Tyrone. Thats a curious omission unless of course they are looking for an Independent to endorse.
    So who exactly does a Catholic/Nationalist/Republican parent vote for? SF again lose out on a competence issue.
    So it would appear SDLP is the only beneficiary.
    So SF 3, SDLP 1 unionists 2.

  • 241934 john brennan

    This verdict reinforces the widely held view that Sinn is not just opposed to the 11+, but also wants to replace successful Irish Grammar schools, with the failed English Comprehensive system

  • Pat Mc Larnon

    ‘This verdict reinforces the widely held view that Sinn is not just opposed to the 11+, but also wants to replace successful Irish Grammar schools, with the failed English Comprehensive system’

    The verdict reinforces the view that the Grammar elite want to remain ring fenced and protected, no shared campus for them.

  • Mick Fealty

    Pat,

    On what grounds would you appeal this one?

  • orly

    Another slap down for Ruane.

    How is she still in her post? Oh yes, that’s right. Jobs in the government here are pretty much permanent when you have splitting it nicely between parties, no opposition and no one really offering scrutiny.

  • Thats actually unfair.
    Its too often the case that the SDLP get hold of an issue and go after a Sinn Féin person. And to be honest Sinn Féin do exactly the same in respect of SDLP. Alex Attwood for example is a more decent person than most of his detractors.
    Yet luckily for both SDLP & SF the vitriol they have for each other is not matched in the broader nationalist/republican community. In six weeks just watch the pattern of transfers.

    There are several issues on which to berate Caitriona Ruane but being a “middle class woman” and a “dud”. If Gerry Adams is obsessed with middle class women… well hes only human (I am too).
    But lest we forget “better” Jenny McCann is Im sure a nice enough person when you get to know her but theres than unfortunate business of spending time in jail for shooting a policeman.
    In my first post, I noted that the parents at Loreto will be voting SF and SDLP in six weeks. Its a cliché and patently untrue that working class Catholics vote SF and middle class Catholics vote SDLP.
    But its a curious reverse snobbery ill-becoming of an SDLP supporter to imply that middle class women are not suited to being in Sinn Féin and that working class women are better suited to Sinn Féin.
    Part of the problem unionists have is that in (say) Fermanagh South Tyrone they were sent into a near trauma at the election of Bobby Sands. They thought they knew their neighbours better. But somehow the cliché has been allowed to fester that its not “respectable” to vote SF.
    Unionists had trouble with Bairbre de Bruin because she didnt fit the profile of a SF member.
    They are having the same trouble with Ms Ruane.
    I am sure no professional in SDLP would go down that dodgy road.

  • Mick Fealty

    FJH,

    I know that there’s an election coming up, but the story’s about a judgement on the Minister (Margaret Ritchie has also had a high profile High Court case go against her too), not an election story.

    I’m just not sure how we got so seamlessly and so quickly from the Minister’s ‘ unjustifiable breach of trust’ to the faults and weaknesses of some of her online critics.

  • Mark McGregor

    Pat,

    That particular Grammar is to the fore in abandoning academic selection despite Ruane’s inability to make such action compulsory.

  • 241934 john brennan

    The issue is not about middle class V working class, or grammar schools V secondary, or even the elite V the mediocre. It’s about the need for a good all round education system – that encourages stretches and maximises the potential of all children.

    As Ms Ruane keeps repeating: ” Every school a good school.” But we know that is not the case . We know that Sinn Fein has held the Education Portfolio since 1998 – and nothing has improved.

    We know of the Dawn Purvis report about underachievement in” Unionist “areas of Belfast – particularly West Belfast, where Gerry Adams was MP for the past 20 years.

    Living in the rural countryside, I was recently asked the question, by a teenage West Belfast Nationalist, “Is them cows bulls”. Forget the biology, but how on earth will he ever get a decent job, when his speech even betrays a lack of any decent primary school education. Would a reference from the Sinn Fein President do the trick?

  • Mr Fealty, I take your point but we are now officially in an election run up.
    The biggest and quickest form of re-dress available to the parents is just six weeks away. We can therefore soon judge how deeply concerned or unconcerned parents are.

  • Chris Donnelly

    Ruane is a half-crazed, semi-educated idealogue (sic!) with the attention span of a goldfish.

    SDLP Supporter

    Oh the delicious irony in that one!

    Mick
    On a more serious note,should there not be some consistency with regards to the warnings delivered to commenters making such personal attacks?

  • Newman

    The Minister has been giving speeches recently in a valedictory fashion..ending 11 plus etc…this judgment is a much more accurate reflection of her tenure.

  • Mark McGregor

    Mick,

    Give the full judgement is not available and it seems a ministerial decision made post devolution has been overturned on the basis of a pre-devolution commitment with allegation of ‘breach of trust’.

    Surely it is right to ask what trust was breached? Loreto’s issue is surely with a direct rule minister failing to implement a policy? Ruane made her decision based on the conditions at the time she inherited the brief without that implementation in place. Conditions had changed, not her fault.

    It seems to fall within the realm of judicial activism and is most certainly open to challenge.

    Also, with the complexities of the case and the usual need for ‘reserved judgement’ it seems very unusual to have an immediate pronouncement – judicial activism in the first week of an election?

    A judgement when the main respondent is no longer in a position to respond/appeal due to being removed from position as the Assembly is dissolved?

    Judicial activism?

  • Mark McGregor

    Chris,

    It’s election time. The stoops go crazy, Mick mostly lets them away with it, its now a Slugger tradition.

    They disappear totally humiliated 6 weeks later – same every time.

    Though you are right to point out Mick letting crap like that stand and red-carding Nevin for waffle.

  • Newman

    Mark

    The decision is far removed from judicial activism. This is a public law challenge based on principles of fairness and accountability…Ministers have to act reasonably and rationally…they are not dictators who can capriciously make decisions based on ideology, without dealing with the facts of a case…this has nothing to do with the election..it has eveything to do with broken promises and a legitimate expectation which was ignored in a high handed way…the case is unlikely to be challenged and if it was the decision will be upheld, based on normal appellate principles.It would help if you read it.

  • Mick Fealty

    Chris,

    Comment is now gone. Mark, do you want to go the way of Nevin?

  • DC

    What way did Nevin go?

    The judge has just confirmed what most people suspected anyway about Ruane’s actions.

    But in fairness, I did like the concept of putting all the schools together on one site; however, in the eyes of the law the school did seem to have a legal expectation of receiving public money based on previous actions of government pre-dating Cat Ruin’s time in office.

    I imagine if push comes to shove some of the decisions taken by Conor Murphy’s DRD will hit the same buffer – namely that of starving other roads of redevelopment monies – roads which were once sitting with approval and on a green light – but now stalled on amber – to feed instead the expansion of the A5, despite thousands of objections being made, plus a public inquiry – and now withdrawal of the road money from the Irish government.

    I reckon a judge could reach the same verdict on some of Conor Murphy’s decisions.

  • Crubeen

    Judicial review is not about the merits of the impugned decision – it is about the way the decision has been made and whether or not, per a strict legal test, it is reasonable and rational. Most cases that go to a hearing are resolved against the applicant. This one must have represented a massive cock-up by the Department (no surprise there for this or any other Department).

    I’m looking forward to reading the full judgement which, on past experience will be posted on the Court Service website within a week or so. Judgements can also be accessed at: –

    http://www.bailii.org/

  • Sean Og

    Ministers must operate within the law but it is very difficult to overturn a Minister’s decision through JR. Judges are very reluctant to get involved in political decisions – it’s hard even getting leave to apply for JR!

    The main reasons for overturning a decision are, failure to follow due process, the Minister didn’t have the legal power to make the original decision (ultra vires) or having considered the evidence no reasonable person could have reached that conclusion.

    In this case the learned Judge McCloskey has accused the Minister of “an abuse of power”. Strong words!

    This is a very serious accusation and the decision should be studied by all incoming Ministers. They can’t just overturn decisions of previous Ministers without taking into account the impact on those to whom undertakings have been given. It’s about “fairness”.

    Margaret Ritchie fell into the same trap when she lost the JR on her cutting funding to conflict transformation initiative.

    Both cases will have cost the public hundreds of thousands of pounds to defend citizens from Ministers who won’t follow advice. Let us hope the new lot learn the lesson.

  • Cynic2

    Sean Og

    Noone expects Ministers to follow advice slavishly, but to make rational decisions they first have to be able to understand the advice and ask rational questions not just mouth vacuous and dogmatic slogans.

    I understand that Catatonia has a reputation at Stormont for being ‘difficult to brief’. Isnt that why John O’Dowd was put in to support her?

    Perhaps she should have stuck to the bird watching and cadging grants for the West Belfast Festival. Of course all that was when she politically neutral and before she joined SF. It would certainly have cost the tax payer less money poured down the drain in legal costs

  • Not wishing to be pedantic as I dont actually know Omagh well but The Omagh school is actually “Loreto Grammar” (which might be clear from the text) but “Loreto College” is actually in Coleraine.

  • Pete Baker

    Apologies, Fitzy.

    I had confused the two schools at an earlier stage and my error continued uncorrected.

    I’ve edited the original post accordingly.

  • No need to apologise Bakery.
    Apparently the constant confusion irritates both schools.

  • son of sam

    It will be interesting to see what the “invisible” M P Pat Doherty has to say about the judgement. I suppose the teflon factor will apply.Bairbre de Brun favoured Enniskillen for the new hospital.Who suffered electorally? Not Sinn Fein!

  • Old Mortality

    Wasn’t there a plan for all the secondary schools in Omagh to relocate to the disused army base? If that idea hasn’t died, surely it’s sensible to defer a new building for Loretto and was that argument made in court?. Obviously, the Loretto governors aren’t very keen on it.

  • vanhelsing

    Ruane won’t be getting post next time round now that her sponsor Lord Ardoyne has moved South. She’s made a mess of education and well anything she has touched.

    The Shinners don’t like washing their dirty laundry in public but the Butler affair http://sluggerotoole.com/2011/03/25/sinn-fein-needs-to-change/ is an example of their seldom indiscipline. She’ll be moved and good riddance to her.

    Her hypocrisy knows no bounds – she has tried to destroy the Grammar system in Northern Ireland whilst her daughter attended a Grammar School in Northern Ireland and now attends one in the South 🙂 Hmmm…

  • Sinn Fein’s anti educational policy is quite clear and consistent. Its leaders, people like McGuinness and Adams, are more noted for their associations with the sword rather than the pen. These people have striven to control and intimidate the Catholics of the 6 cos for very many years now.
    As part of this, it is essential that they emasculate Catholic religious orders and things like the 11 plus which give bright kids a chance.
    In Britain, the land they serve, all post war PMs, with one or two exceptions, have come from elite schools; the exceptions were all 11+ kids.
    SF would not tolerate any such kids being outside the control of the Adams family or their sinister cronies. That might lead to informed opposition that could not be silenced by the sword.

    If we look at Ireland, the land these traitors sold, one of its most revolutionary forces was the Christian Brothers, which formed the backbone for such progrsssive organisations as the Pioneer Abstinence Assoic and the GAA, many of whose members were murdered by Sinn Fein in its PIRA days.
    And yet the Chrstian Brothers, the most quintessentially Irish order of them all, was barred from entering Donegal, Leitrim and Cavan by the dark forces operating there.
    Reactionaries always take an interest in control and therefore in education. Sinn Fein are no different,

  • Pete Baker

    Update The lengthy ruling is now available online.