Northern Ireland Assembly
Monday 10 September 2001
The Assembly met at noon (Mr Speaker in the Chair).
Members observed two minutes’ silence.
I wish to inform Members that Royal Assent has been signified to the Family Law Act. The Act became law on 17 July 2001. Royal Assent has also been signified to the Product Liability (Amendment) Act, the Budget (No 2) Act, the Department for Employment and Learning Act and the Trustee Act. The Acts became law on 20 July 2001.
I have received notice from the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment that he wishes to make a statement on the meeting of the North/South Ministerial Council in its tourism sectoral format held on Friday 29 June 2001 in Coleraine.
The Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (Sir Reg Empey):
The third meeting of the North/South Ministerial Council in its tourism sectoral format took place in Coleraine on Friday 29 June 2001.
Following nomination by the former First and Deputy First Ministers, Dr Seán Farren and I represented the Northern Ireland Administration. The Irish Government were represented by Dr James McDaid TD, Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation. The report has been approved by Dr Farren and is also made on his behalf.
The Council received a verbal report on the recent progress of Tourism Ireland Limited from Mr Andrew Coppel, chairman of the company which included a presentation on the further development of the Tourism Brand Ireland initiative and the planning of marketing programmes for 2002. Mr Coppel also reported that the company board had selected a chief executive officer following an open recruitment process and that an announcement on that appointment would be made shortly.
The Council approved proposals for a staffing structure for the new company, which covered issues such as remuneration, grading, conditions of service and staff numbers. The Council approved the company’s operating plan for 2001, subject to a finalisation of annual budgets.
The Council appointed Mr Noel McGinley as a director of Tourism Ireland Limited. Mr McGinley was recently appointed as acting chairman of Bord Fáilte Éireann. The chairman of Bord Fáilte Éireann and the chairman of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board (NITB) are ex officio members of the company.
The Council discussed a paper on training in the tourism and hospitality sector. That paper contained a progress report on joint training initiatives and set out training proposals being jointly developed by the former Department of Higher and Further Education, Training and Employment, and CERT (Council of Education, Recruitment and Training), the Irish tourism and hospitality training authority.
The Council formally approved a number of proposals concerning InterTradeIreland, the North/South trade and business development body. The Council noted InterTradeIreland’s annual report and accounts, a copy of which has been presented to the Assembly.
The Council gave approval for InterTradeIreland to proceed to public consultation on its new draft targeting social need (TSN) action plan. The Council also approved InterTradeIreland’s proposals to develop the demand and supply of equity funding. The Council agreed that its next meeting in tourism sectoral format would take place in the autumn.
The Chairperson of the Enterprise, Trade and Investment Committee (Mr P Doherty):
Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I welcome the Minister’s statement. He said that the company’s planning of the marketing programme for 2002 is under way. Does that programme give any special recognition to northern counties? By northern counties I mean those north of County Dublin and County Sligo. It is recognised that marketing in those counties is at a premium.
Sir Reg Empey:
The Member will be aware that, according to the statement made on 18 December 1998, the establishment of the company specifically mentions that its operations had to take account of Northern Ireland’s circumstances of the past 30 years.
The Member’s question covers areas other than Northern Ireland. One issue with which we have found common cause is that counties north of Sligo, such as Donegal, feel that they do not share in the significant tourism growth that has taken place in recent years.
The success of the outworking of the company’s marketing activity will be measured by the extent to which there is a greater spread of tourism activity, particularly to Northern Ireland. However, the marketing programme includes counties outside Northern Ireland, as it is clear that tourism activity is still concentrated in the south and south-west of the Republic and in Greater Dublin.
One of the key objectives is to ensure that there is a geographic spread and another is to increase the total market. The articles of the company specifically require it to pay particular attention to Northern Ireland’s needs.
I thank the Minister for his statement. Has a decision been made about the exact location of the Northern Ireland headquarters of Tourism Ireland Limited? If not, when is the decision likely to be made?
Sir Reg Empey:
I understand the Member’s interest in the matter. The company is actively pursuing premises in Coleraine. The chairman and the chief executive, accompanied by developers and agents, have visited a number of premises in the town and are at the stage of determining the precise site. I hope that a decision will be imminent. The company has been very active, and it recognises the importance of establishing the office in view of the fact that its responsibilities are now to include the IT aspects of the new company. That will be an important part of the activities, and I am looking forward to the early resolution of the issue.
I strongly welcome the Minister’s statement and the significant progress that has been made in the matter. It is appropriate to put on record the deep appreciation of all those involved in tourism for the significant contribution that the Minister has made since devolution, and the difference it has made to their lives.
Tourism Ireland Limited has been established; the chief executive and his staff have now been appointed. When will the organisation begin to make its presence felt, and when will it make a significant impact on Northern Ireland’s tourism figures?
Can the Minister give any financial assessment of the significant damage done to tourism by the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease and by the continuing conflict at Drumcree every July?
Sir Reg Empey:
The outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease came like a bolt from the blue and it had a particular impact on tourism in rural areas. The Executive are currently assessing the economic and financial implications of the disease across the Departments, because a number of them have been affected. That assessment has not yet been completed. However, there is anecdotal evidence to suggest that there has been a negative impact; which has been the case in the Republic of Ireland, and throughout the United Kingdom.
The summer months, which should be our peak season, have become a difficult period for the past few years because of the wider conflict, including that at Drumcree. Undoubtedly when you are trying to market any place a negative background is something you could well do without.
The company intends to begin its first marketing campaign in the new season of 2002, and I would expect it to start rolling out early in the new year. It was always envisaged that that would be the target because the preparation of material is time-consuming and needs to be carried out with great care. I look forward to the first marketing campaign under the flag of the new company in the spring season of 2002.
Mr Paisley Jnr:
Does the Minister agree that Northern Ireland tourism does not need to be an addendum to all-Ireland tourism because of the great opportunities it offers? Does the sale, development and marketing of the Giant’s Causeway tourism opportunity site form any part of the Minister’s discussions? Will he assure the House that the sale, development and marketing of this key tourism area will remain in the hands of Northern Ireland people who have the best interests of Northern Ireland at heart?
Sir Reg Empey:
Our purpose is to ensure that Northern Ireland is not an addendum to any particular agenda. As the Member will know, several years ago the NITB entered into arrangements for marketing the island of Ireland as a destination. However, the programme had already been rolled out and established before the NITB became involved. Consequently, it was felt that Northern Ireland’s influence in the design of that programme was less than it ought to have been, and that was also reflected in other publications and literature.
As I have already said, it is written into the company’s articles of association that it must pay specific attention to the needs of Northern Ireland as reflected over the past 30 years. The make-up of the board, with its 50/50 representation, and the fact that the chairman comes from Northern Ireland, should give us confidence that many of the people there will be directing their attention to ensuring that we maximise the benefits of tourism in Northern Ireland.
The sale and development of the Giant’s Causeway are not within the remit of Tourism Ireland Limited. These are matters for the owners of the property. As for the specific marketing of the site, any marketing done in any part of this island will inevitably focus on one of our major assets - the Giant’s Causeway - as the most popular destination on the island.
I welcome the Minister’s statement. In paragraph 3 he referred to a chief executive officer. Has that officer been appointed, and where will he or she be based?
Sir Reg Empey:
Mr Paul O’Toole has been appointed as chief executive officer. He will be based in the Dublin headquarters of the company. However, he visits Northern Ireland regularly, and he will have an office in Coleraine. I hope to have a meeting with him tomorrow.
Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I welcome the Minister’s statement. He states that the North/South Ministerial Council gave its formal approval to a number of proposals relating to InterTradeIreland. Will he elaborate on those proposals?
Sir Reg Empey:
The Member will be aware that it is possible for any sectoral meeting of the North/South Ministerial Council to deal with matters that are not necessarily the remit of that particular meeting, and occasionally that is done for administrative convenience. The Council gave approval to the annual report and accounts, which have been laid before the Assembly and can be found in the Library.
The Council also gave approval to InterTradeIreland to proceed with its consultation on its draft TSN action plan. As the Member will know, this is a statutory requirement. It was felt that, rather than waiting for the next meeting of the North/South Ministerial Council in its business and trade development format, it would be better to deal with this issue as early as possible so that consultation could take place, and that has been done.
Finally, the council gave approval to proposals on developing the demand and supply of equity funding. As the Member will know, in the statement of 18 December 1998 the supply of equity funding and people’s access to it was one of the specific remits given to InterTradeIreland. A report on this subject was produced by chartered accountants with the assistance of the Industrial Development Board (IDB). Considerable progress has been made.
It was felt that for convenience and speed those matters would be dealt with under the tourism sectoral format rather than waiting several months until the next trade meeting.
I thank the Minister for his report. I refer him to the presentation of the development plan for 2002. Can the Minister, the NITB or Tourism Ireland Limited tell Members whether the programme of marketing for the eastern border region, which covers St Patrick’s country (the Mournes and the Cooley peninsula), has been implemented? It is evident that this area has been greatly neglected in the past. Of the recent arrivals of cruise ships in Belfast, every single tour that was presented to passengers directed them northwards. There was no marketing or propaganda available about the very good tourist attractions within twelve miles of their disembarkation. Is that situation remedied in the 2002 marketing programme? If not, will the Minister ensure that it is?
Sir Reg Empey:
The Member knows that Tourism Ireland Limited is a company. It has charge of the marketing plan, but that does not mean that all marketing rests with the company. It deals with destination marketing - it markets the island of Ireland to the rest of the world. In our jurisdiction, there are regional tourism organisations, which the NITB will continue to support. The NITB has the ability to market, and will continue to have that ability. Many organisations are taking advantage of that. They are given a budget by the NITB to focus on particular areas. Local authorities will also continue to have a role.
The company will be marketing a destination. All parts and relevant assets in that destination will be incorporated in the marketing material. When you get down to specifics, it is quite clear that there is a limit below which you cannot go when you are marketing a destination. Therefore, the NITB, the regional tourism organisations - including those that cover the Member’s constituency - and the local authorities will continue to have a role that will be financially supported by the NITB.
Rev Dr Ian Paisley:
That being so, will the Minister explain why invitations to the opening of the much- vaunted office in Brussels, which was to make those representations and to boost this country in all aspects, have been cancelled by a phone call to everyone who received an invitation? The office was to be opened on 18 September. How much money was spent on sponsoring the opening, which will not now take place?
The subject is within the Minister’s remit, but it is not contained in his statement. It is a matter for the Minister whether he chooses to respond.
Sir Reg Empey:
It is not a matter in the statement, as you say, and it is not a specific tourism issue. The opening of the Brussels office was noted in a number of diaries. Invitations were sent to permanent secretaries only, not to third parties. As the Member knows, events taking place in Brussels are frequently noted. A number of potential guests were notified about the opening, but invitations were not issued because it was considered inconvenient. However, the office is functioning and will have a full and proper opening in due course.
Rev Dr Ian Paisley:
On a point of order, Mr Speaker.
I do not take points of order during ministerial responses, but I will take it at the end of responses to the statement.
I welcome the Minister’s statement and his commitment to training in the tourism industry.
It is appropriate that we address common issues on a North/South basis. Can the Minister give the Assembly an update on the delivery of those training programmes?
Sir Reg Empey:
My colleague Dr Farren presented a paper at the last meeting on 29 June. I am happy to say that considerable progress has been made, and my understanding is that the Department for Employment and Learning, through the Training and Employment Agency, and CERT have agreed a joint training programme and identified a number of persons who will participate. I understand that that programme has commenced. That is a positive development.
Our ability to market and be successful in tourism will be determined by the quality of the product, and one key area will be the skills of individual operatives. Dr Farren’s Department plays a significant role, and a significant effort was made in a very short time to put together a joint proposal. Funding is in place through the Budget, and I look forward to positive results in the near future. I can confirm that the programmes have commenced.
I thank the Minister for his welcome statement and for his frequent visits to Coleraine. Can he give any indication of the number of jobs that will be created locally in Tourism Ireland Limited? Can he assure local businesses that there will be opportunities to tender for contracts through the normal Government procurement procedure?
Sir Reg Empey:
It is anticipated that when the office in Coleraine is fully operational, 16 people will be employed. The Member will know that I recently attended a meeting with Coleraine Borough Council. At our suggestion, a number of businesspeople and potential contractors from the borough were invited. The purpose of the meeting was to point out the potential to apply for, and obtain business from, the office in Coleraine, and there was a very good attendance. Questions were asked of officials, and I addressed the meeting. There is now a full understanding among the Coleraine business community of the opportunities that could arise from successful applications to provide goods and services to the company.
That is the end of questions to the Minister on the statement.
Rev Dr Ian Paisley:
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Is it in order for the Minister to say that invitations were not sent out? I have a copy of my invitation to celebrate the official opening -
Order. That is not a point of order. The question was outside the remit of the statement, which was on the question of Tourism Ireland Limited and not on the opening of an office in Brussels. There was some generosity tendered in permitting the Minister to respond to the question at all. If there is a question about the details of this invitation. The Member will have to take up the matter with the Minister.
Rev Dr Ian Paisley:
In his statement there was a reference to something beyond tourists. There was a reference to targeting social need, action plans and equity funding. Surely that comes into this.
Order. The Member will resume his seat.
Rev Dr Ian Paisley:
So it is in order to deceive people and send them invitations and then not abide by them?
Order. The question that was raised was outside the statement. The Minister made a response. To allow further responses would be clearly out of order. The Member may take up the matter directly with the Minister, or, of course, in another context in the Assembly.
Assembly: Ad Hoc Committee on Draft Criminal Injuries Compensation
(Northern Ireland) Order 2001 and Draft Northern Ireland Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme
That, pursuant to Standing Order 49(7), this Assembly appoints an Ad Hoc Committee to consider -
(a) the proposal for a draft Criminal Injuries Compemsation (Northern Ireland) Order 2001; and
(b) the draft Northern Ireland Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme, refered by the Secretary of State and to submit a report to the Assembly by 27 November 2001.
Composition: UUP 2
Other Parties 3
Quorum: The quorum shall be five.
Procedure: The procedures of the Committee shall be such as the Committee shall determine. - [Mr McGrady.]
Mr C Wilson:
I was unsure of the procedure but, if permitted, I would like to make a comment about the motion.
Order. The opportunity is lost. Members cannot comment on a motion after the matter has been voted on.
Mr C Wilson:
I tried to get your attention, Mr Speaker, simply to say that my party will not support the proposal.
Order. The Member must resume his seat. It was a business motion, and in the normal course of events such matters are not for debate. However, if, at any stage, there is a debate, it must take place before the Question is put - not after. The Question has been put, and while it was by no means unanimous for one reason or another, the ayes have it.
Mr C Wilson:
Mr Speaker, may I make a statement on the composition of the Ad Hoc Committee?
Order. The Member may not speak on the previous Question.
Mr C Wilson:
I am sorry, but it concerns the change of appointment.
Order. Perhaps it may save the Member some trouble and embarrassment if I explain. The motion now before the House is about the membership of the Business Committee, not the Ad Hoc Committee. It is simply to do with a change of membership - the replacement of Mr Ford by Mr McCarthy on the Business Committee.
Mr C Wilson:
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. I assure you that I will not be embarrassed. Those who should be embarrassed are those Unionists who are going to nominate Unionists to sit on that Committee.
Order. The Member is clearly out of order, and he knows it.
That Mr Kieran McCarthy shall replace Mr David Ford on the Business Committee. - [Mr Ford.]
The Business Committee has allocated two hours for the debate on the Holy Cross Primary School. Many Members have indicated that they wish to speak. In order to facilitate as many Members as possible, I have decided to allocate times as follows: the mover of the motion will have 10 minutes to move and 10 minutes to wind up. One amendment has been accepted; the mover will have seven minutes to move and five minutes to wind up. The Minister responding on behalf of the Executive will have available the usual time for a ministerial response to a motion. However, it is for the Minister to decide whether he takes the full time. I remind all Members that those are maximum times, not minimum ones.
All other Members will have five minutes in which to speak. If the Question has not been put by 2:30pm, when Question Time must begin, the debate will resume at 4:00pm and continue until completion. The House will then vote on the amendment and the motion.
Mr G Kelly:
I beg to move
That this Assembly supports the right to education of school children attending the Holy Cross Primary School in north Belfast.
Last week the entire globe watched a single image of Belfast. What can only be described as one of the most frightening and depressing episodes in the past 30 years was witnessed from every corner of the globe. Schoolgirls, aged four to 11, and their parents were physically and verbally assaulted. They were made to run a gauntlet of sectarian hatred and violence. Stones, bottles, curses, whistles, air horns and a blast bomb were the ammunition used by the so-called protesters who spent a week mounting a blockade at the Holy Cross Primary School. The protesters’ objectives were to harass, intimidate, injure and, in the case of loyalist paramilitaries, kill Catholic school children and their parents. If anyone was in any doubt about that, the Ulster Defence Association, acting under the name of the Red Hand Defenders, issued death threats to back that up. -[Interruption].
Members will get their chance to defend the protesters in a minute.
After a week of sectarian hatred and violence on Ardoyne Road, much of which was orchestrated by Loyalist paramilitaries and defended, as we can hear, by some within the Unionist political establishment, the blockade was back on the streets this morning. Once again, Catholic children had to pass through a tunnel of bigotry to get to school and receive their education. What has happened on Ardoyne Road is not complicated - it is a clear and simple case of sectarianism in its rawest and most unpalatable form. It is unfortunately, all about "not having a Catholic about the place".
The blockade of the children is politically, ethically and morally wrong. No argument can justify it, and no explanation can underpin it. Protesting against school children is wrong. Screaming sectarian abuse at school children is wrong. Blowing whistles and air horns at children is wrong. Throwing rocks, bottles and blast bombs at children is wrong. Any form of blockade or protest against children on their way to school is wrong. -[Interruption]. I notice that a teacher is attacking what I have said.
Politicians should recognise that those actions are wrong and they should call for the blockade to end. If they do anything short of that, they will let the bigots off the hook and provide them with the political cover for their attacks on young children. It is a matter of protecting the human and civil rights of children.
The blockade began at the end of the last school term, after a week in which Loyalists and the RUC prevented parents and their children from entering their school through the front door. During the 11 weeks of the summer holidays, channels between the Nationalist and Loyalist communities were opened, in an attempt to resolve the dispute. Parents engaged with Loyalist residents through the media and networked for six weeks. Cross- community contact was initiated involving workers from Ardoyne and residents in Glenbryn. Sinn Féin used its contacts in the Loyalist community for five weeks in an attempt to produce a resolution. In the end, all those efforts failed, but not through a lack of sincerity or attempts on the Nationalist and Republican side to reach an accommodation.
Despite the failure of the dialogue to produce a solution, and the week-long series of attacks on children and parents in Ardoyne, all sections of the Nationalist community have put on record their willingness to enter into dialogue urgently. Community leaders, parents, political representatives and ordinary residents are all saying that dialogue is the only way forward and that that must be achieved sooner, rather than later.
Throughout the last week, Unionists, Loyalist politicians and some community workers have sought to justify or excuse the blockade. They have aired spurious arguments through the media. It has been said that the protest is against the parents and not the children. The cameras show that the abuse is aimed directly at the children. Some say that the parents are Republicans. However, any Catholic school in the North will include a mixture of Sinn Féin voters, SDLP voters, non-voters and voters for other parties. Sinn Féin is the largest Nationalist party in the area; the children of its members have a right to education. Like any other children, they have the right to have their parents leave them to school, regardless of their parents’ politics - or lack of politics.
Some say that there is an alternative route. There is no safe alternative route. The route via the Crumlin Road is much longer and passes through the same Protestant area. There have been many attacks on Catholics and their homes on the Crumlin Road. There have been innumerable attacks on other children travelling to and from the other Catholic schools in the area. Furthermore, there is no disabled access, and children have to cross a muddy football pitch to get to the back door of the school.
Parents have also been attacked for allowing their children to go through the blockade. That is very distressing for the parents. Logic is turned on its head when those who perpetrate such acts of violence on children and their parents blame the victims for the abuse. It is a despicable misrepresentation of the deep and heartfelt anxiety that each parent has had to face each day.
It is said that Glenbryn is an isolated Loyalist enclave; it is not. Glenbryn is part of a huge Loyalist or Unionist area stretching from the Crumlin Road to the Antrim Road. In fact, it is difficult to get into the Nationalist Ardoyne area without passing through Loyalist areas. Glenbryn residents complain of attacks on their area by Nationalists - fair enough. However, the vast bulk of attacks in this interface area over the past 5 years have been carried out by Loyalists against Catholics and their homes. The DUP already knows that, because it has checked the statistics. Almost all of the gun and bomb attacks in the area have been by Loyalist paramilitaries on Catholics and their homes.
It is said that peaceful protest is a democratic right - again, fair enough. However, the human rights of children actually supersede any right to protest against them. David Ervine says that it is a cry for help, yet he knows that the UDA is deeply involved and has carried out around 200 bomb and gun attacks against Catholics this year alone. If it is a cry for help, it is a violent one.
Are there problems of deprivation and poverty in Glenbryn? Undoubtedly, there are. It is a working-class Protestant area that has suffered from much neglect. Unfortunately, the Catholic working-class areas have been suffering from the same governmental neglect, discrimination and oppression for generations. Nationalist and Republican residents and community workers are more than willing and ready to share experiences and work out ways to tackle common problems - and there are many common problems of economic and social neglect. However, primary school children are not to blame for any of that and should not be punished.
There is no doubt that communities such as Glenbryn have a range of problems that must be addressed by politicians and community leaders. Such problems are not unique to that estate; they feature in many parts of north Belfast. Politicians and community leaders must work together on those issues as partners, both within and between communities. We must share our experience and knowledge. We must build relationships and accept the responsibility that comes with leadership and with living as neighbours.
I would like to pay tribute to all the parents, children and teachers of Holy Cross Primary School. They have shown magnificent resilience, courage and dignity in the face of an unwarranted onslaught. They have the respect of all decent people. This is the European Year of the Child. The European Convention on Human Rights places the rights of children above the right to protest. In my opinion, protesting against children is illegal and wrong. If Members support the rights of children, they should be united in their call for the blockade to end. Regardless of our differences, we should be united in calling for face-to-face dialogue to resolve the issue. Go raibh míle maith agat.
One amendment to the motion has been selected. It was not the only amendment submitted, but it is the one that has been selected, and it is published on the Marshalled List.
I beg to move the following amendment: Delete all after "attending" and insert:
"all schools throughout north Belfast."
The amendment is self-explanatory and deals with the issue on an educational basis, which I understood to be the purpose of the motion before the Assembly.
I listened to the proposer and he made little or no reference to education. Instead we had what might be called a Republican rant, which is very unfortunate.
My amendment is inclusive and is worthy of widespread political support in the House. Due to the situation that exists in north Belfast, Members have a duty to act responsibly and not inflame that situation by their words or actions in the House. Many people will be watching for the reaction of the House.
I am speaking as the Ulster Unionist Party spokesman on education in the Assembly. The reason for the amendment is that it is a basic right of all school children, not just those in north Belfast but those throughout Northern Ireland, to be free from any let or hindrance, or interference, as they travel to and from school. That right extends from Coleraine to Crossmaglen. It applies to Holy Cross Primary School and other schools in that area. Many of the scenes we have witnessed in north Belfast have been unedifying and undoubtedly appalling. I want to place on record the Ulster Unionist position that the party condemns any violence in relation to that or any other incident.
All school children have the right to travel to and from school without interference, abuse or obstruction. I am aware of the possible adverse physical and mental health implications that can happen to the children concerned.
Problems have existed in the area for many years. The RUC has been actively involved for well over 20 years in ensuring the safe passage of pupils throughout that area of north Belfast. I am thinking of schools such as the Girls' Model, the Boys' Model, Wheatfield Primary School and others. Nominally they are state schools - controlled schools - and for many years their pupils have been subjected to verbal abuse and all manner of unnecessary and unwarranted abuse; and we must condemn that. To some extent both communities have been affected. No later than last week primary school pupils, ranging from primary one to primary three, had their school bus attacked en route to Cliftonville Primary School. The House has a duty to condemn that as well.
I hope we all agree that children should not be treated in this way. We should also agree that children should not be used by parents or, perhaps, by any political group to advance a particular agenda. Many of us have a great concern that there have been elements only too glad to see contention and trouble erupt in that area of north Belfast in an attempt to use it to their own narrow political advantage. Sinn Féin/IRA is directly responsible for that. Some people might see it as a way of taking attention away from political matters in other parts of the world such as Colombia. It is very wrong for Sinn Féin to think that it could do that. It is highly cynical, and it is an abuse of parents and children. It is also wrong to imagine that the events in Colombia will not be subject to proper scrutiny, and that they will not be returned to the centre of the political stage in the coming days.
I welcome the acceptance by the Sinn Féin Member for North Belfast that those who wish to peacefully process on a main route should be allowed to do so. That is welcome news for people in other parts of Northern Ireland, particularly with regard to the rights of Orangemen in Portadown.
It is unfortunate when school children have first-hand experience of the conflict. I remember the murderous attack on a school principal who was attempting to teach his class in Newry Model Primary School. That attack was carried out by Republicans, the IRA. It caused considerable trauma, and as a result the school no longer exists. Children have witnessed murderous attacks on school buses and part-time members of the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR), the RUC and the Royal Irish Regiment (RIR). It is unfortunate that children have been embroiled to a degree in the conflict.
The issues are complex and largely not related to education. I appeal to local community and elected representatives to stand back, cool off and initiate talks to find an early solution. I welcome the Secretary of State's initiative and look for early progress. I hope that Members will conduct themselves in a manner befitting this House and its reputation.
Mr A Maginness:
I welcome Mr Kennedy's condemnation, as Chairman of the Education Committee, of the blockade and protest at Holy Cross Girls' School. However, I cannot support the amendment because it distracts from the core issue - that very blockade by Loyalist protesters. It is insufficient to consider this in an omnibus motion which involves other schools that hitherto have not been affected and, I hope, never will be in the way that Holy Cross Girls' School has been. The amendment serves merely as a distraction from the core issue, and I regret the fact that the Chairman of the Education Committee has moved it.
I rose as an Ulster Unionist party spokesperson on education and not in my role as Chairman of the Education Committee.
Mr A Maginness:
I accept the Member's point. Nonetheless, Unionist politicians should not attempt to take attention away from the core issue - the protest and blockade of that school.
Read the motion.
Mr A Maginness:
Mr McCartney will get plenty of opportunity later on, a man who claims to be non- sectarian. The situation in Ardoyne is symptomatic of the failure of all politicians to direct their energies towards dissolving the great sickness of intercommunal sectarianism in our society. The Good Friday Agreement should have given politicians and the community at large the opportunity to address that issue. Unfortunately no attention was paid to addressing sectarianism because of our involvement in political crises.
The two communities in Ardoyne relate to one another in a dysfunctional fashion, with young people hurling bricks and the communities hurling brick bats. That has to end. The Holy Cross Girls' School has become a victim of the collective failure of politicians and the community to respect each other and to live in peace and friendship. It is ironic that the school, under the leadership of Mrs Anne Tanney, an industrious and visionary headmistress, has led the way in trying to build better community relations with the Protestant community. The school was involved in joint holidays and educational ventures with its fellow primary school, Wheatfield, and ecumenical visits and exchanges with the local Church of Ireland church. Holy Cross Girls' School is truly a victim of sectarianism. The so-called protest at the school is not a protest at all. It is a blockade of the school, and it has no moral or political justification.
No objective, fair outsider could say that it has any moral or political justification. Therefore, the protest must end because its continuance has no legitimacy whatsoever. If its alleged purpose is to highlight the Glenbryn community's concerns and grievances, surely after one horrendous week those issues have been sufficiently highlighted publicly. The protest should therefore be terminated to allow a real and constructive dialogue between the two communities - Glenbryn and Catholic Ardoyne - in the Greater Ardoyne area so that all the outstanding issues and grievances affecting the community can be addressed by both communities. There is no doubt that both communities have real concerns and grievances, and there is no doubt that there have been attacks and counter-attacks. All those issues must be addressed. It is not, however, a one-sided situation, and paramount in all of this is the welfare of the children. We must do all we can to end this protest because it is the children who are suffering. They should not be allowed to suffer any further.
Order. The Member's time is up.
We have heard much talk about the suffering of the children. No one has yet mentioned that the only child to have died in this recent period was a Protestant child, murdered as a result of sectarian hatred in north Belfast. It is incumbent on all of us to remember the family of Thomas McDonald, 16, murdered in cold blood last Tuesday morning in the White City area. He is to be remembered, and I deplore any attempt to distract from that.
Mr A Maginness:
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The last remarks referred to the tragic killing of Thomas McDonald. The Member went on to talk about the motivation behind that killing. This matter is sub judice. The Member's remarks could well be prejudicial with regard to the proper trial of the person who has been accused.
Order. I hesitate to intervene between two lawyers on this matter. The laws of sub judice are rather strict, and they are rather tighter than people sometimes imagine regarding the timing at which matters become sub judice. I advise Members to be careful and cautious, and I trust that as lawyers they will not take it as inappropriate that I should advise them on this matter. I will certainly listen carefully to what is being said.
It is shameful that in all the talk about concern for children no one has mentioned the terrible plight of that Protestant family in the White City and what they have gone through. The media and commentators, in many cases from afar, who never speak to people to try to understand their fears and concerns or to work with them - with a few notable exceptions such as some members of the clergy and others - have been strangely silent in ignoring what is going on in other parts of north Belfast. If that had been a child from the other community, there would have been worldwide headlines. People in our community are sick, sore and tired of the one-sided coverage of everything that goes on, not only in north Belfast but in Northern Ireland generally. It is important that that is put on the record.
To see Sinn Féin/IRA nauseatingly exploit this situation once again, as they tried to do in Belfast city hall on Friday and have been doing every day this week for their own narrow political ends, is sickening in the extreme. This is from a party and an individual who have been convicted of crimes not only against the community in Northern Ireland but also against children.