CSI – an alternative perspective

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Earlier today, I sent a response to the consultation on the draft Programme for Cohesion, Sharing and Integration that is being carried out by the Office of the First Minister and the deputy First Minister for Northern Ireland (OFMDFM) and finishes tomorrow 29 October 2010.

My covering letter which goes with the response is outlined below.

The Northern Ireland Liberal Democrats welcome the publication of this draft Programme by OFMDFM, but we are concerned at the lack of demonstrable targets and outcomes; at the lack of any timetable for taking this programme forward; and at the lack of inclusion of proposed costed proposals for how these are to be achieved in the future by the Northern Ireland Executive, which would show the commitment of the Executive to taking this programme forward.

In our response we refer to areas of Northern Irish community and society which have been excluded from this draft programme which really should be ground-breaking and inclusive. These include people with disabilities, women, people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or trans, as well as those who are victims from the last forty years or so of violence in our community.

It is our belief that those who are LGBT in Northern Ireland are particularly vulnerable. As illustrations of this we include references to the OFMDFM-sponsored research which is contained in the report An acceptable prejudice? written by Jarman and Tennant, together with statistics that have been supplied by The Rainbow Project and also Dr Duncan Morrow of the Community Relations Council.

Our response has the support of DELGA (LGBT Liberal Democrats) and a copy of the letter of support from the Chair of DELGA, Adrian Trett, is enclosed as well.

As Liberal Democrats, we exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, and it is our belief that the final Programme for Cohesion, Strategy and Integration as amended following public consultatioin, could be one way forward towards this goal. However, we stress that this ‘fair, free and open society’ should be one in which no-one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity.

The full text of our response is shown below:

The text of the consultation document as issued by OFMDFM can be found here.

appeal for calm in Newtownabbey

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Local Liberal Democrat campaiger, Michael Carchrie CampbellFollowing the disturbances in the O’Neill Road area of Newtownabbey, local Liberal Democrat campaigner Michael Carchrie Campbell has appealed for calm.

Michael said:

I appeal for calm in all areas of Northern Ireland particularly in North Belfast following tonight’s disturbances in the Cloughfern/O’Neill Road area of Newtownabbey.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland serves the whole of Northern Irish society and deserves to be treated with respect by all. I am sure that the community at large will join with me in condemning the actions of the youths involved this evening.

Ireland’s Greatest – a worthy winner

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John Hume - now 'Ireland's Greatest' as chosen by RTÉ viewers

Last night an Raidío Teilifís Éireann (RTÉ) the announcement of the viewers poll to find Ireland’s Greatest went to a very worthy recipient, John Hume the Nobel Peace laureate who is formerly MP, MEP and leader of the SDLP.

At a time when the buzz across Ireland is to look for a shared future living in peace between all communities the man whose involvement stems from the civil rights movement in the 60s to the Belfast Agreement and is still felt today is a beacon of where we can be. Hume is a man who spent all of his public life working to bring people together. As someone who started out merely looking out for the local residents of Derry as part of the Derry Citizen’s Action Committee and a founder member of the Derry Credit Union his rise to international acclaim shows how local campaign can shape a life and change the world.

John Hume of course set up the SDLP but it was his work in secret talks with Sinn Féin that got the first cease-fire in the troubles declared in Northern Ireland, then got them around the table for talks about a shared future, which culminated with the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement.

He’s done a lot to lead to a united, shared future for those of us in Northern Ireland and indeed Ireland as a whole. Up against Michael Collins, Mary Robinson, James Connolly and Bono he was a worthy winner. Here is what the man himself said about the accolade:

‘I am very proud that people across Ireland took the time to vote for me and I appreciate it greatly.

‘This award obviously recognises the contribution of my wife and family over many years as well as others who worked with me.’

‘I can only thank people in Derry and across the country for taking the time to vote for me.’

Adding that the tag of Ireland’s Greatest could have been given to all men and women who had campaigned for peace throughout the island.

educational integration the Catholic Church’s response

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Bishop Donal McKeown, chair of the Northern Ireland Commission for Catholic Education

 

Yesterday we praised Peter Robinson the DUP First Minister’s call for integrated education in Northern Ireland. Today we have a response from the Catholic Church to ponder.

The chair of the Northern Ireland Commission for Catholic Education Bishop Donal McKeown said that the right of parents to choose a faith-school need to be recognised. He said:

“This key principle, which recognises the right of parents, is guaranteed by the European Convention for Human Rights.

“It is worth pointing out that parents who choose faith-based schools for their children, pay taxes toward the provision of that education.

“The Catholic Church has also contributed substantial funding and resources for the provision of Catholic schools over generations, and this has ultimately saved the taxpayer money.

“Long experience across this island, north and south, shows that Catholic schools are committed to welcoming pupils of all backgrounds and to building a cohesive society in the service of the common good.”

Now looking at the ECHR, there is no specific requirement for schooling or education. The only mention of teaching and religion comes in Article 9:

Article 9 – Freedom of thought, conscience and religion

  1. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.
  2. Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

What is noticeable is that though teaching is mentioned it does not related directly to education in full. How else would states such as nominally Catholic France be able to offer fully secular education. The teaching of faith is not enshrined in the classroom, or in any school.

The only rights that seem to relate to parents (families) that the Bishop seems to suggest are a guarantee are in article 8:

Article 8 – Right to respect for private and family life

  1. Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.
  2. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

But this related to private life and family life. There are arguments that national security, safety, prevention of disorder and crime could all be best served in an integrated education system where Seamus who goes to mass every Sunday on Monday is sitting in school alongside Johnnie from the Protestant church up the road. Also the economic argument for integrated schooling rather that duplication of resources in some areas, or indeed triplication in three sectors (state, catholic and integrated) makes sense.

The argument for health and moral case is one that the churches (both catholic and protestant) may take an exception to. While they may think that teaching their morals is all well and good it doesn’t meet the ultimate test. The teaching of abstinence and confining it to mixed-sex relationships through RSE classes (Relationships and Sexuality Education) is not meeting the need. There are teens heterosexual and homosexual across Northern Ireland who would have benefited from an inclusive education on these matters before it was too late.

As Liberal Democrats we don’t believe anyone should “be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity” one of the ways to ensure that ignorance doesn’t damage the health of our young people is to take the faith out of schooling, provide full and frank discussion for all. Without opting out because it is comfortable for the information provider when it is the receiver’s needs that require to be met.

DUP First Minister calls to end school apartheid

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First Minister Peter Robinson calls for end of "benign form of apartheid"

Yesterday in a speech the Rt Hon. Peter Robinson MLA, Northern Ireland’s First Minister, spoke about the need for to end the “benign apartheid” of the Northern Irish education system. He is advocating setting up a commission to looking at total integration of the different sectors.

There already is a growing integrated sector within the community but the First Minister does not believe this voluntary shift is moving fast enough, with enough ‘critical mass’  to make a real difference.

In calling for a commission to look at change the First Minister does acknowledge there will be difficulties such as religious education, school assembly devotions, the curriculum and that it will not be an overnight achievement.

“It may take ten years or longer to address this problem, which dates back many decades, but the real crime would be to accept the status quo for the sake of a quiet life.

“The benefits of such a system are not merely financial but could play a transformative role in changing society in Northern Ireland.”

Lagan College in 1981 Northern Ireland's first planned integrated secondary school

I’m glad to see the move to integrated education in Northern Ireland being raised at the highest level. When I was going up to secondary school, in 1981, a new project was starting at Lagan College (pictured) a first planned integrated secondary school. Twenty eight pupils that year attended classes in a scout hut. My parents being teachers toyed with the idea of sending me there, but not being certain of the levels of education attainment at that time decided against it.

These days a generation later my nephews attend an integrated primary school and hopefully will move on the integrated secondary.

As Mr Robinson says:

“Future generations will not thank us if we fail to address this issue.”

That is true and I hope that the First Minister will also look at another form of educational apartheid in some of our schools; the failure to acknowledge same-sex relationships in RSE classes (Relationships and Sexuality Education). Also the failure by some to set up homophobic bullying policies. If we’re going for total integration may as well make it do exactly what it says on the tin.

councils delay has gone to Poots

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By now we should be well down the road for reorganisation of the local district councils in Northern Ireland from the 26 current district councils to the 11 council model. Sadly for some, though better for actual local democracy and relation of councillor to constituent, this has not happened.

According to the BBC, Northern Ireland’s Minister for the Environment, Edwin Poots, of the DUP, said that he

remained committed to reforming local government

Committed to reforming local government he may be, but not committed to bringing forward the legislation necessary to enable this to be done. For Mr Poots has failed to bring the Final Report of the Local Government Boundary Commission to the NI Assembly for final approval. Last November, we were still waiting, and we are still waiting today.

And today the Minister has decided to pull the plug on the funding for the Transition Committees. Whilst I have no problem in doing this, there is no point in them existing if we are not going to move to the eleven council model, we need to remember that it is not the Executive’s fault – nor the Assembly’s: it is the Minister’s fault himself. He is responsible for steering the requisite legislation through the NI Assembly. He has not even allowed the Final Recommendations of Dick Mackenzie to be approved – though this would appear to have something more to do with the actual boundaries between Belfast City Council area and the Lisburn City and Castlereagh merged council area.

cross posted from Gyronny Herald.

Lib Dem MPs – remember your pledge – it’s OUR policy!

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I hope that all Lib Dem MPs will uphold their pledge. They must remember what our policy says:

Liberal Democrats are the only party which believes university education should be free and everyone who has the ability should be able to go to university and not be put off by the cost.

cross posted from Gyronny Herald.