Rear View Mirror

­Fortress Europe and the criminal legacy

It was a week which witnessed 27 more asylum seekers drown as they attempted to cross the English Channel, yet another report condemning the lack of progress on integrated education and further claims that childcare is in crisis.

In the first nine months of this year, almost 1400 migrants (men, women and children) died while crossing the Mediterranean Sea. A further 1400 died similarly the year before.

Last week 27 asylum seekers from the middle east, north Africa and Afghanistan drowned when the dinghy they were in capsized in the English Channel. They too were fleeing the consequences of wars and conflicts prosecuted by western governments and the European Union

The influence of right-wing parties, particularly in Italy, France, Hungary and Britain along with the political line pursued by governments in the EU, has led to a vicious and irrational populism against immigrants irrespective of their circumstances. The cruelty of Fortress Europe is clear as yet again bodies are being washed up on beaches.

The blatantly racist narrative that we are being swamped by asylum seekers, migrants and refugees is simply not true. Last year the UK received just over 36,000 asylum seekers. France settled three times as many and Germany almost four times as many. Turkey is now home to more than seven million displaced persons.

The thousands of people seeking security, shelter and a new life in Europe are victims of the wars pursued by western governments in Afghanistan, Syria, Iran and Libya. The criminal warmongering that has overthrown governments, destabilised countries and left thousands of innocent people dead or seriously injured now has its legacy in the trail of refugees forced to flee their homes. In turn, they fall prey to yet another criminal conspiracy in the form of human traffickers relieving them of their last resources in exchange for a place on an overcrowded dinghy.

These tragedies can be stopped. Not by patrol boats, repatriation, imprisonment or detention centres, but by governments accepting the consequences of their actions, facing up to the humanitarian crisis that they have created and by declaring that Refugees are Welcome.

While the long-term solution requires radical systemic change, that approach can contribute to putting the human traffickers out of business, ending the daily death and misery and give dignity and a future to the thousands of victims of war and aggression.

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Read the Party’s submission to the European Communist Initiative this weekend:

Childcare Crisis

Alarm bells rang last week over the crisis in childcare provision.

It would have been nice to think that it was because costs here are the second highest in Europe, that there are not enough places to cope with demand and that one third of local parents say that childcare costs are their largest monthly outgoing, exceeding their rent or mortgage. But no. Crisis has been reached because 70% of childcare providers are reported to be making a loss or just breaking even.

The lack of available places and the cost of childcare remain major factors in discouraging women, in particular, from participating in the workforce. Many have no choice but to work reduced hours, enter casual employment or give up work altogether.

Socialist countries, like the German Democratic Republic, pioneered comprehensive childcare schemes as long ago as the 1940s and 50s.

We have a lot of catching up to do, and fast. The answer lies in publicly funded, affordable, flexible nursery and childcare services.

Integrated Education

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation

How many reports will it take to embarrass the Northern Ireland Assembly into implementing an integrated, and secular, education system?

Yet another, produced by Ulster University’s UNESCO Centre for Education, says that a lack of political will has left the divided system untouched and unchallenged. 

The Assembly and Sinn Fein and the DUP, in particular, have done everything in their power to successfully side step their responsibilities on this. They have repeatedly ignored the requirements of the Good Friday Agreement, they have promoted diversionary strategies such as ‘shared’ education proposals but basically, they have blatantly and unashamedly turned their backs on integrated education.

It is very clear that the political and religious vested interests which keep children separated and contribute to the perpetuation of division in this society will not yield that power voluntarily.

It must be the task of all progressive forces, teachers, parents, educationalists and of everyone who understands the necessity for a fully integrated secular education system to maintain the pressure and continue to call out the Assembly for its contempt and derision of this fundamental building block.

Fair employment and integrated education

Segregated education has never been justified. It is not justified now. Neither is underpinning a segregated education system by exempting the recruitment of teachers from fair employment practices. 

Yet that is what has been happening since at least the mid-1970s and continues to receive support today, primarily from the main churches

Every teacher has a right to expect, and receive, equality of opportunity and should be free to apply for a post in any school of their choosing. Their perceived community background, political opinions or religious beliefs must not be a consideration.

The removal of the teachers’ exception clause from fair employment legislation would be a significant step forward in the development of integrated education.

However, it is clear that the political and religious vested interests which keep children separated and contribute to the perpetuation of division in this society will not yield that power voluntarily.

It must be the task of all progressive forces, teachers, parents, educationalists and of everyone who understands the necessity for a fully integrated secular education system to focus their efforts on that end.

Party Slams Integrated Education Bill

The Workers Party’s Lily Kerr has condemned the draft Integrated Education Bill as ‘not fit for purpose’ and has attacked the integrated education record of the main political parties.

In her party’s submission to the consultation process Lily said,

“It is an appalling indictment of our society, and of our political processes, that, 40 years after the opening of Northern Ireland’s first integrated school and 23 years after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, only 7% of our pupils are taught in an integrated setting and that we continue to maintain separate teacher training colleges.The main political parties have denied their responsibilities and connived to set back the integrated education project through disingenuous schemes such as the ‘shared education’ ploy”.

“The stark reality”, Lily said is that, for as long as the Northern Ireland Executive is run by two major and competing sectarian power blocs, no progress will be made on integrating the education system, or indeed any other aspect of society.

Click below for theParty’s full submission

Every Day’s a Segregated School Day

The political power bases which have been secured and developed since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement depend absolutely on a divided and segregated society.

The inescapable reality is that integrated education is being deliberately side-lined by the Assembly. MLAs from the DUP, Sinn Fein and other parties continue to go to great lengths to find reasons why children should not be educated together.

Last week’s debate on a private member’s bill to progress integrated education exposed the real differences between the rhetoric and the reality.

Of course, everyone thought integrated education was a good idea…. but not now and not here.

The Education Minister, the DUP’s Michele McIlveen called the bill ‘unwelcome and unhelpful’, Sinn Fein said the bill needed ‘serious and significant changes’. Sinn Fein’s John O’Dowd, himself a former Education Minister, spelt out what some of those changes might involve when he claimed ‘The identity in it (integrated schooling) is not neutral – in many of them it is British.’

The Good Friday Agreement placed a statutory obligation on the Executive and the Assembly to facilitate the development of integrated education. They have not only singularly failed to honour that requirement, they have collectively connived to avoid it.

The political power bases which have been secured and developed since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement depend absolutely on a divided and segregated society. That’s the basis of both the DUP’s and Sinn Fein’s joint electoral and political strategy.

‘The DUP / Sinn Fein Coalition has deliberately sought to, not only side-line the principle and practice of integrated education, but to substitute and promote a ‘shared’ education agenda which is little more than a political fig leaf to justify the continued segregation of our children into religious and political tribes and offers no alternative to those parents who want more for their children

Last week’s debate demonstrates, if further proof were needed, that both these parties have taken a decision between themselves to carve up Northern Ireland into two sectarian camps and feed off the fear, mistrust and ignorance that it generates.

When voters opt for DUP, Sinn Fein and similar candidates at the polls this is what they are voting for. Intentionally or not support for these parties is support for segregation, division a denied future, and all that that involves.

Doors closed on integrated education

Around 7% of children here attend an integrated school. Ninety-three percent do not.

Ballyhackett Primary school in Castlerock will close in a few months’ time. Pupil numbers are low and an application to become the area’s only integrated primary school has been turned down by the Education Authority, the Controlled Schools Support Council and by the Education Minister Peter Weir .

The Good Friday Agreement (1998) was very clear about the responsibility on the Assembly and the Executive to promote integrated education, yet it is almost impossible to find one sustained initiative taken since then that has contributed to that objective.

On the contrary, the DUP and Sinn Fein, in particular, but supported by other parties, have developed a ‘shared’ education programme designed to muddy the educational waters, give the impression of progress toward integration but in fact consolidating the divisions which already exist.

Integrated education should not be the call of last resort, and falling pupil numbers should not be the motivating factor towards an integrated system. But the opportunity offered by Ballyhackett Primary school could, and should, have been taken to demonstrate a commitment to integrated education. It was not and it was no accident.

It is thought that around 7% of children here attend an integrated school. Ninety-three percent do not. That is a figure and a situation which satisfies many groups, political parties, individuals and vested interests. It’s also a major factor in the continued division of this society and the maintenance of two sectarian power blocs.

For as long as those vested interests go unchallenged there will be more Balyhacketts and even less integrated education.

How many more reports? How many more ruined lives?

How many more reports? How many more ruined lives?

To the questions ‘how many more reports’ and ‘how many more ruined lives’ can be added a third query: ‘How long can they get away with this?’

The ‘this’ in question is the myth that Northern Ireland’s education system is fit for purpose and is maximising young people’s talent and potential. The ‘they’ refers to all those with vested interests in perpetuating their own advantage and privilege and in maintaining division in  this society.

Report after report, study after study has identified the damage which academic selection – or the 11 Plus exam – can cause to young people, their opportunities and their futures.

It’s the same story for integrated education. Vested interests, political and religious, have combined to ensure that the requirement set out in the Good Friday Agreement to promote integrated education, has, to this day, been successfully sidestepped.

Privilege and disadvantage

Against that background, ‘How long can they get away with this?’ is a real and critical question.

The recent report produced by the Ulster University’s Education Centre identifies the impact and longer-term effects of academic selection at age 11. They say that it’s traumatic for many children and damages the life chances of a large proportion of the school population. Previous reports have highlighted the reinforcement of “privilege and disadvantage” and recommend the end of academic selection in Northern Ireland as a key way to help in reversing educational disadvantage.

Integrated Education

Add to that the contemptuous disregard shown by the Assembly for the development of integrated education, in the face of increasing community support and it is undeniable that the education system in Northern Ireland is not fit for purpose.

Opinion research conducted recently by the Integrated Education Fund (IEF) found an approval rating for integrated education at over 80% of all respondents. Yet, the main Assembly parties have not only done little to develop integrated education, they have deliberately diverted the focus to their invented, and meaningless, concept of ‘shared education’.

Like so much in Northern Ireland, these issues are frequently presented in simple sectarian terms. Radio phone-in programmes and many political commentators seek to reduce both issues to examples of community division. How often do we hear that ‘unionists support academic selection while nationalists are opposed to it’ or, that ‘both communities want their children educated in schools reflecting their own community background’?

But the reality is that many of the shortcomings in our education system are class-based issues.

The supporters of academic selection, and all the problems that causes, are neither nationalist nor unionist: they are Northern Ireland’s middle classes determined to secure their, and their children’s, social advantage, even though that is gained at the expense of less advantaged children.

So too with integrated education. The imperative to maintain and sustain the dangerous and divisive ‘two communities’ model takes precedence over all other considerations.

How long will they get away with it? As long as they are allowed to, and for as long as they go unchallenged.

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Teacher Training: business as usual

A significant report which finds that how teachers are trained in Northern Ireland reinforces “educational division and duplication” along sectarian lines, is most likely destined to sit on a shelf gathering dust.

The report, produced by the Ulster University’s UNESCO of Education, has highlighted the consequences of four teacher training facilities based largely on religious affiliation and the implications that has for underpinning and perpetuating sectarianism.

Assembly members are unlikely to even read the report let alone debate it or act on its recommendations. It will be a one day wonder on the local media.

Despite the Good Friday Agreement being very clear. about the Northern Ireland Assembly’s responsibility towards Integrated Education – it was to “encourage and facilitate its development” – Sinn Fein and the DUP in particular have spent that past twenty-two years ensuring that no progress was made on integrated education or on integrated teacher training, one of the key milestones on the journey to de-sectarianise education.

Instead, they have prioritised and promoted the concept of ‘shared education‘, deliberately side-lining the integrated education project.

Only those committed to the implementation of integrated, secular education in Northern Ireland will  look to this report to confirm what is already known: but for the Executive, the Assembly and the Department of Education it will be business as usual as they collectively help to maintain and consolidate division in this society.

‘Shared’ education sustains division

The Education Minister is building ‘invisible peace walls’

Workers Party representative in North Belfast, Gemma Weir, has criticised plans by Education  Minister John O’Dowd to present a ‘Shared Education’ Bill to the Assembly.

Sustaining division

‘Shared education sustains division’ Gemma said. ‘It is firmly embedded in ‘two communities’ politics and does nothing to bring about a truly integrated society’.

‘The Good Friday Agreement was very clear that the Assembly had a responsibility to ‘…facilitate and encourage integrated education…’

Today’s proposal ignores  that commitment and seeks to substitute integrated education for a shared model based on a ‘separate but equal’ approach’, she said.

 Invisible ‘peace’  walls

Promoting shared education instead of integrated education is akin to building invisible ‘peace’ walls between yet another generation of our school children’, Gemma added.

‘Shared Education is nothing more than a political fig leaf to justify the continued segregation of our children into religious and political tribes and offers no alternative to those parents who want more for their children’, she said.

Independent Commission 

‘It is quite clear that the future of education in Northern Ireland is too important to leave in the hands of the Assembly. Only an independent commission can properly assess and report on how we can progressively reform our current failed structures’, concluded Gemma.