Bushmills Outdoor Centre campaigners call on minister to suspend consultation

Campaigners to save the Bushmills Outdoor Education Centre meet at Stormont along with political representatives, including MLAs Colin McGrath, Jim Allister, Harold McKee, Robin Swann and Gerry McMullan and Councillors Margaret-Ann McKillop and Sandra Hunter. INBM 50-750-CON
Campaigners to save the Bushmills Outdoor Education Centre meet at Stormont along with political representatives, including MLAs Colin McGrath, Jim Allister, Harold McKee, Robin Swann and Gerry McMullan and Councillors Margaret-Ann McKillop and Sandra Hunter. INBM 50-750-CON

The Stormont Executive has been urged to suspend consultation on the proposed closure of Bushmills Outdoor Education Centre.

It came during an Assembly debate on the future of the multi-purpose facility.

Opponents of the proposal to shut the centre by August 2017 as part of an Education Authority rationalisation plan have gathered a petition with over 2,000 signatures.

They were represented in the public gallery at Parliament Buildings and their views were reflected during Tuesday’s session at which MLAs from the area called for a re-think.

North Antrim Sinn Fein MLA Philip McGuigan, who brought forward the debate, asked: “ Is it now time for the consultation to be suspended until we are satisfied that a proper assessment has been carried out that gives us the facts, based on reality, as opposed to what may be the assumption of the Education Authority?”

Echoing this call, UUP MLA Robin Swann said: “A number of us were invited to Bushmills Education Centre a couple of Fridays ago. I was pleased that we had representation from four parties.

“What really struck me on that visit was that the Bushmills Education Centre was delivering shared education long before ‘shared’ was a buzzword in the Education Authority, the North Eastern Education and Library Board or even in the department itself.

“One of the truly remarkable things that was pointed out to us on that day, almost as an aside, was that Bushmills and associated centres are inclusive and, for the young people who go there, affordable. A concern shared by teachers and parents is that this will price young people out of going to outdoor centres.”

Bushmills Centre is one of four earmarked for closure following a review of residential and outdoor provision in Northern Ireland by the EA.

Education Minister Peter Weir, who was in the chamber for the debate, challenged those opposed to the EA recommendations, which are currently out for consultation, to offer alternatives.

Mr Weir said: “Nobody is coming at this from a doctrinaire position. I will simply say that people have to put a viable alternative — a plan B. If, for instance, the argument is that, within the Education Authority, £1·3 million should not be saved here and another part of its budget should be cut, people should have the courage to make that argument.”