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Councillor ‘disgusted’ at debate over Craigavon Senior High’s Lurgan campus future

DUP accused of having 'some brass neck' and one unionist blasts councillors for using his children as "political footballs"

Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council has unanimously backed a proposal calling on the local authority to express its “deep concerns” around plans to close the Lurgan campus of Craigavon Senior High School.

A motion brought forward by UUP councillor Louise McKinstry and seconded by DUP Alderman Stephen Moutray calls for Council to write to the Education Authority (EA) and the Permanent Secretary at the Department of Education, Mark Browne objecting to the decision to close the Lurgan campus of Craigavon Senior High School.

The decision to close the Lurgan campus of the school was taken in the run up to Christmas by Dr Mark Browne who approved plans for the school to operate from its Portadown campus from September 2023.

Currently, around 160 pupils attend CSHS’s campus in Lurgan, with the rest of the school’s 650 pupils attending its Portadown campus.

Introducing the motion at Council’s monthly meeting on Monday, January 30, Councillor Louise McKinstry said she was not seeking a debate on the Dickson Plan, telling the chamber this is a “Lurgan issue that needs a Lurgan solution”.

“Concerns were flagged regarding the Lurgan Campus of Craigavon Senior High as far back as 2012,” said Cllr McKinstry.

“In the interim there have been development plans and options put forward to try and provide pupils with a suitable place in which to learn.

“The EA carried out a public consultation setting out the number of options but it was obvious their preferred option was to close the Lurgan campus and amalgamate it with the Portadown campus.”

“We are now at the eleventh hour if we want to retain an educational pathway for all students in Lurgan.”

Cllr McKinstry motion reads: “This council recognises that post primary education in Lurgan for those in the controlled sector, not selected for a grammar education is not at the standard it should be.

“It further agrees that a decision by the permanent secretary to amalgamate the Lurgan campus of Craigavon Senior High with the Portadown campus would be detrimental, not only to those children but to the town of Lurgan and outlying villages as a whole.

“This Council reiterates its support, as outlined by our submission to the EA for the retention of Key Stage 4 provision for non-selective students in Lurgan and undertakes to write to the EA and the Permanent Secretary for Education to express our deep concern at the decision to close the Lurgan campus and operate a single site campus from Portadown from September 2023.”

The motion was seconded by the DUP representative, Alderman Stephen Moutray who said the decision will be to the detriment of pupils in Lurgan and the surrounding villages.

“Dr Noel Purdy’s report concluded the best outcome was that Lurgan pupils be educated in their own town and that could be done without the need to dismantle the Dickson Plan,” he said.

“I was content with that report at the time and am content with it today. The current decision taken is the worst outcome for all of our children we need a Lurgan school provision for Lurgan children.”

Alliance Party councillor Peter Lavery confirmed his party would be supporting the proposal but was heavily critical of the DUP’s role in the current outcome.

“Council’s concerns and indeed, local residents’ concerns, have been ignored and the decision, by the Department of Education’s permanent secretary, may prove to be a long term detriment to many children in the Lurgan area,” he said.

“Many in Lurgan will not miss the hypocrisy of the DUP on this issue. Multiple DUP ministers had the opportunity to prevent this decision being made but instead they did nothing. Both Peter Weir and Michelle McIlveen had this decision on their desks and they chose to ignore it and the children of Lurgan in the process.

“The DUP has some brass neck in this argument as it has only come about by their intransigence and refusal to enter an NI Executive.

“While the DUP MLAs continue to hold Northern Ireland to ransom it will be ordinary people who will be hurt hardest and the situation at Craigavon Senior High is just one example of that.”

SDLP councillor Ciaran Toman said his party would support the motion, telling the chamber parental choice “needs to be at the heart of the education system”.

“Everyone accepts the situation in the Lurgan Campus of Craigavon Senior High is unsustainable with the lack of open space and poor amenities for young people but the widespread opposition to this proposal has been very clear from the outset,” he said.

“A Lurgan solution can be found and it is incumbent on the EA to find a solution that commands the support of the Lurgan community and a Lurgan solution would deliver that.

“This is a bitter blow for all who have contributed to the consultation documents. This outcome has been stacked against the community and its children.”

Sinn Fein group leader, Councillor Liam Mackle said his party would support the motion but said the situation was “a symptom of the failure of Unionist politicians to advocate for an end to an outdated and failed system”.

“The children of Lurgan in the controlled sector are hostages to the vested interests of exclusive academic selecting colleges. This is a system that supports the few to the detriment of the many,” he said.

“I hope this development starts some new thinking among my Unionist colleagues about what post-primary education in the 21st century should look like.”

UUP Councillor Kyle Savage told the chamber he has children who attend the Lurgan campus of the school and said he was “disgusted” by the decision of the permanent secretary and by comments made by Cllrs Lavery and Mackle.

“I am not going to have my children used as political football in this debate here tonight like Cllr Lavery and Cllr Mackle are trying to do, I think it is absolutely disgusting the way they are operating tonight,” he said.

“This is about the children of Lurgan and the school system they are operating in currently.

“People need to open their eyes and wake up to the situation we have here. The people of Lurgan and the rural villages have been totally ignored in this consultation.

“It is disgusting that some politicians here tonight are using children as a political football to get their own point across.”

Thanking members for their support, Cllr McKinstry brought the debate to a close and said she hoped this support shows the permanent secretary the level of opposition this plan faces locally.

“We have to be positive and proactive and vocal in our opposition to the amalgamation of these two campuses,” she said.

“When I look back at the consultation process, for me it was riddled with flaws, it seems the scales were tilted against us from the very start.

“I hope the unanimous support this motion has sends a clear message to the permanent secretary that he thinks long and hard before this decision is enacted upon.”

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