Ulster Unionist representative Roy Beggs MLA has questioned the Education Minister on cuts to early years investment in Northern Ireland, at the same time that he is investing funding into a new post-primary Irish language school for 14 pupils.
Roy Beggs said “I declare an interest as a committee member of Horizon Sure Start. James Heckman, a Nobel prize-winning economist, has written extensively on the value for money of early years investment. My question to the Minister is this: why has he chosen to cut early years investment, which brings benefits to the entire community, yet he is able to find money for a new post-primary Irish language school for 14 pupils?
Education Minister John O’Dowd MLA added “I have not chosen to cut funding for early years: that was imposed on us by the Conservative Party, which has a minuscule mandate here. We continue to invest over £200 million in early years projects across the North. My Department is investing quite a significant amount of money in early years projects moving forward. We have seen year-on-year cuts to the block grant, which means that there will be year-on-year cuts to the moneys that the Department of Education has to spend.
Roy Beggs MLA, speaking after the exchange in the Assembly said “Early intervention is crucial in the development of our young people so that they can reach their full potential. Important work is carried out by the voluntary and community sector in Northern Ireland and I am pleased to say that a motion opposing the cuts to our voluntary and community sector, which I have proposed, will be debated at Stormont this week.
It is disappointing that the Sinn Fein Minister has chosen to divert significant funds to create an Irish Language Post Primary school for only 14 pupils rather than prioritise widespread early years investment which benefits the entire community.”