Tuesday 16 January 2007

Private Members’ Business
Social Disadvantage and  Educational Attainment

The Assembly met at 10.30 am (Madam Speaker in the Chair).

Members observed two minutes’ silence.

Private Members’ Business

Social Disadvantage and  Educational Attainment

Madam Speaker: The Business Committee has agreed to allow two hours for each of today’s debates: the Member moving each motion will have 15 minutes, with a further 15 minutes for the winding-up speech. All other Members who wish to speak will have a maximum of 10 minutes.

Two amendments have been selected and published on the Marshalled List. They will be moved in the order in which they appear on the list. When the debate is concluded, I shall put the Question in turn that each amendment be made. If that is clear, I shall proceed.

Mr McElduff: I beg to move

That this Assembly recognises the link between social disadvantage and educational attainment and recognises the sterling work of educationalists in addressing this situation; and further calls on an incoming Executive to develop a strategic approach to raising the attainment levels for the most disadvantaged in our society.

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. Ba mhaith liom an rún seo a mholadh, agus tá áthas orm é a chur os comhair an Tionóil.

I note that two separate amendments have been tabled; I am happy to accept both, because they add substance to the original motion.

First and foremost, I call on the Assembly to acknow-ledge the direct link between social disadvantage and educational attainment. The Department of Education’s business plan for 2006-07 concedes that those from disadvantaged backgrounds do not gain the full benefits of education. The anti-poverty and social exclusion strategy ‘Lifetime Opportunities’ concurs, stating that:

“Research shows that chances of escaping from poverty are greatly improved by educational attainment. Therefore the focus is and will remain on breaking the link between poverty and educational underperformance.”

An interesting point was raised at a seminar organised by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) in Grosvenor House on Friday last. There was a debate on whether there was such a thing as a good school or a bad school.

Would it be in order to regulate the clock in order to guide me through my 15 minutes?

Mr Brolly: Your time is up.

Mr McElduff: My time is up, according to Francie Brolly.

A spokesperson for NASUWT (The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers) said that there was no such thing as a bad school but that there was such a thing as a school with large numbers of children from socially disadvantaged backgrounds. That was a very interesting statement.

Educational disadvantage starts from an early age — often by the time children reach primary school. The strongest predictors of an individual’s educational attainment level — class background, parental income levels and social and economic background as a key barrier to social mobility — have long been recognised.

Social disadvantage, as experienced by children in education, operates at many different levels. Household income, presently represented in the North by entitlement to free school meals, has been shown consistently to be a significant determinant of educational outcomes. There is a direct correlation between free school meal entitlement and average GCSE score, according to research carried out by Ian Shuttleworth and Peter Daly. In one particular survey, it was found that those entitled to free school meals achieved an average GCSE score of 34·8%, while those not entitled to free school meals achieved an average GCSE score of 52·5%.

At school, disadvantage is shown by the percentage of children from lower-income families and socially deprived areas. I draw the attention of Members to an answer given by Maria Eagle on 11 January to my colleague Sammy Wilson, a Member for East Antrim. He had asked how many children from Protestant and Catholic family backgrounds left school with fewer than five GCSE qualifications at grades A to C in the last year for which figures were available. The answer was as follows:

“The requested information relates to the 2004-05 school year and is as follows: (a) 4,232 (39.3 per cent of Protestant school leavers) (b) 4,566 (35.9 per cent of Roman Catholic school leavers).”

In the North, then, almost 9,000 children left school without five GCSEs.

There is the famous example of the small percentage — despite the very best efforts of the teachers — of children from controlled schools in the Shankill area of Belfast who tend to pass the transfer test and progress to third-level education. I emphasise that there is no such thing as a bad school. Unionist political leaders should show more leadership in helping to address the issue. That is the message that we consistently pick up from educationalists in that area.

In September 2000, a report by Tony Gallagher and Alan Smith — ‘The Effects of the Selective System of Secondary Education in Northern Ireland’ — investigated the 11-plus and the link between social disadvantage and educational attainment, and it showed that children of parents who could afford coaching and home tuition, in a pleasant home environment conducive to study, were better placed to do well in the transfer test.

Gallagher and Smith’s report stated that:

“Our evidence suggests that parents pay up to £15 per coaching session.”

It further stated that teachers feel that there is an unfairness in the procedure —

“… compounded by the fact that not all parents are able to afford out-of-school coaching.”

Inequality is therefore present at the personal level, at school level and at the third level. Research from Patrick Clancy of University College Dublin, written in 2001 and entitled ‘College Entry in Focus: A Fourth National Survey of Access to Higher Education’, confirms that there is a huge gap between access levels to third-level education in the Twenty-six Counties. He found that while 70% of students in fee-paying schools went on to third level, only 38% of vocational school students did so. It is also clear that that situation did not improve greatly during the recent economic boom and, in some respects, even worsened. Participation rates within third level in some working-class areas of Dublin, such as Dublin 11, which is Finglass and Ballymun, and Dublin 22, which is Clondalkin, already among the lowest in the state, fell by 3% between 1992 and 1998, when participation rates in third-level institutions were generally rising by 6%.

Educationalists are working hard at all of that, but they need support and help. I want Members to note that education takes place not only in formal settings, but at home and in the community. Educationalists involved in early childhood education have described as “a mental wasteland” the early developmental and educational experiences of some very young children in disadvantaged circumstances.

The great problem in all of that is that the con-sequences in later life of low educational attainment are significant and central to maintaining the cycle of deprivation and poverty. Low attainment can lead to unemployment and worklessness; and the cycle continues. To reinforce the point that there is a direct link between educational attainment and social deprivation, I draw Members’ attention to a study undertaken by the New Policy Institute, produced with support from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which draws on the latest available data to monitor indicators of poverty and social exclusion. It highlights many statistics regarding educational attainment. I will not cite those statistics now, but I direct the attention of Members to that study.

Educationalists, as I have said, work extremely hard to help disadvantaged pupils to achieve. I know this to be the case, for it was brought home to me at a seminar in Dundalk, where there were representatives present from Sinn Féin, the SDLP, the Ulster Unionist Party, the DUP, the Alliance Party, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Labour Party. It was an excellent initiative, taken by a number of school principals under the auspices of the Primary Principals’ Association. It addressed the link between educational attainment and social disadvantage. There I discovered that teachers deserve every support because they themselves are highly motivated in very difficult circumstances. I heard a story from a school in inner-city Dublin: a female teacher had occasion to open the schoolbag of a pupil and found a syringe in the schoolbag. I also heard stories from loyalist areas of Belfast of how, in recent times, feuding between loyalist groups impacted hugely on schools. It is difficult in such environments for educationalists to do their work.

In rural communities too, distance from essential services is an indicator of poverty, and I acknowledge the great work that educationalists do in these circumstances.

The Executive — no, I will be an optimist and say the “incoming” Executive — must develop a strategic approach to raising attainment levels for the most disadvantaged in society. That should be a constant theme and an identified priority. There must be a demonstrable and real determination to tackle inequality and place that at the centre of education policy and planning. The Department of Education and the incoming Executive must focus on that.

10.45 am

There must be significant increases in funding. Concerted, targeted action will be needed to impact positively on the quality of the education experience in the areas of greatest social need and in traditionally marginalised groups such as Irish Travellers, people with disabilities and those from ethnic minorities. That money must be targeted. It is not a matter of making a few million pounds available to trickle down as £5,000 here and £5,000 there: there must be real investment.

The Department of Education must be directed to consult beyond the normal suspects, such as education and library boards and sectoral providers. We should seek to include individuals from trade union backgrounds and non-governmental organisations.

Not every Member is a supporter of the civic forum concept, as I am. Provision was made in the Good Friday Agreement for an all-Ireland consultative civic authority or body. The Civic Forum produced a good report on social disadvantage and educational attainment that would be worth revisiting, even for those Members who might be sceptical about the value of hearing what civic society has to say.

There must be creative thinking. It will be the Executive’s business to ensure that there is cross-cutting relevance of departmental responsibility.

Mr Storey: Will the Member give way?

Mr McElduff: I normally would, Mervyn, but I have only two minutes left. I have a substantial conclusion to make, so, in this instance, I will not give way.

I call for an integrated approach to address the environmental and social factors impacting on children’s ability. Sure Start is an excellent initiative and needs to be resourced properly. It is making a difference, and it must be expanded in the crucial area of earliest possible intervention and strategies, so that children can gain the full benefit of the initiative as they move forward into formal education.

We need improved working arrangements between education — both the voluntary and statutory sectors — social services, health and housing. How, otherwise, will we reduce illiteracy and innumeracy, which are so prevalent? Do Members need reminding of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report at Westminster on improving the levels of numeracy and literacy and how it should be tackled?

How will we lift up the expectations of communities blighted by deprivation without an integrated approach? We should be serving the educational interests of the child — every child, not just those from more advantaged backgrounds. There is a direct link between social disadvantage and educational attainment. Our educationalists are doing a great job and doing their best, but they need support. That support will come in the form of political will and major investment. Although the Department of Education has a list of reform initiatives aimed at addressing this issue, the Executive and all of the relevant Departments must work together. Go raibh míle maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle.

Mr D Bradley: I beg to move amendment No 1: At end insert

“, including an investigation of the reasons why this link exists, and to implement effective existing and new measures to address this problem.”

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. Is ceist ollmhór é seo, agus is é an dúshlán is mó, b’fhéidir, atá romhainn i gcúrsaí oideachais sa taobh seo tíre. Molaim an Comhalta ó Iarthar Thír Eoghain agus fáiltím roimh an chinneadh s’aige glacadh leis an dá leasú, nó ceapaim go gcuireann siad tuilleadh nirt leis an rún.

This issue is perhaps the biggest challenge facing education in Northern Ireland. I congratulate the Member for West Tyrone on moving the motion, and welcome the fact that he has agreed to the two amendments, as they both add strength to the motion.

Research clearly shows that there is a link between social disadvantage and educational underachievement. Low educational attainment is a result of social deprivation. Therefore, if we are to address the problem of low educational achievement, we must also address social deprivation. Attempting to address educational attainment without taking cognisance of, and addressing, social deprivation could be likened to addressing the symptoms without trying to address the root cause.

Only 37% of school-leavers from the most deprived areas leave with five or more GCSEs; the Northern Ireland average is 61%. The skills base in neighbourhood renewal areas also compares unfavourably when measured against the rest of Northern Ireland, with only 28% of people from age 16 to pensionable age qualified to level 2. The Northern Ireland average is 45%.

Social deprivation is a complex problem with many different elements. Several key background variables are associated with the impact of social deprivation on educational attainment. These include: pupils’ personal characteristics; prior attainment; gender; health; low income; parental unemployment; housing conditions; family size; fluency in English; availability of stimulating reading materials in the home; parental interest; and involvement in, and encouragement of, literacy and numeracy. There are also local factors such as the attitude of the local community and peer groups to education and its value, and the feelings of alienation and social exclusion felt by many.

A report into the Northern Ireland literacy strategy, which was carried out on behalf of the Northern Ireland literacy steering group and published in October 2006, illustrated substantial research on the neighbourhood effects on educational attainment.

Tests for the existence of the effects on educational attainment of 2,500 young people in Scotland found significant negative effects linked to deprivation in the home and neighbourhood and educational attainment. The study concluded that policies to alleviate educational disadvantage cannot focus on schooling alone but must form part of a broader initiative to tackle social deprivation in society at large.

It is now generally accepted that the children who face the greatest obstacles to raising attainment are those who come from a disadvantaged family, live in a disadvantaged neighbourhood or attend a school with many disadvantaged children. Over 102,000 children in Northern Ireland live in poverty. That gives an idea of the scale of the problem.

If social deprivation, as one of the major causes of educational underachievement, is not addressed as part of a coherent strategy, it will simply ensure that the vicious circle of underachievement continues unabated into the next generation. The Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister’s anti-poverty strategy makes that point about poverty itself.

Reviewing the factors that account for the variance in educational attainment, it is evident that combinations of social disadvantage powerfully affect performance, with a variation of up to 75% among schools in attain-ment by 16-year-olds at GCSE associated with pupil intake factors. It is important that we research the influence that those, and other factors, have on educational attainment. We must formulate policy and strategy to change attitudes and raise awareness about the role and value of education to the individual and to provide parents and communities with the resources and skills to change attitudes locally and to support the efforts of teachers and other educationalists in tackling the problem.

Tackling the multiple deprivation factors that have persisted in many areas for decades is a priority of the anti-poverty strategy. Education has a major role to play in that process, not only through the formal education system, but in the home and community. The Department of Education’s role should be taken forward in con-junction with the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, the Department for Social Develop-ment and the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure.

Academic selection has further compounded the problem. Research by Gallagher and Smith highlights that academic selection tends to produce:

“a disproportionate number of schools which combine low ability and social disadvantage in their enrolments, thereby compounding the educational disadvantages of both factors.”

School factors can raise the levels of educational attainment, sometimes by as many as 14 GCSE points for average pupils. Hence, schools are a good place to improve children’s skills. However, a strategy that focuses solely on the improvement of average school performance is likely to be a less effective means of reducing educational underachievement than one that additionally includes communities, families, teachers and educationalists in a cross-cutting departmental approach that also addresses the causes of social deprivation.

There is a broad consensus that intervention in the early years is among the most effective means of improving educational performance and outcomes. Such interventions are likely to be an important facet of strategies that help to lift children out of cycles of deprivation and on to positive pathways. Promising evidence suggests that well-designed programmes are successful in raising levels of educational attainment and creating further positive outcomes in later adult life. The most successful programmes are defined by early and intensive intervention and include a follow-through component in the later stages of the child’s development.

The Nobel laureate in economic sciences, Dr James J Heckman states that:

“Investments in social policies that intervene in the early years have very high rates of return while social policies that intervene at later stages in the life cycle have low economic returns. A large body of scientific evidence shows a “persistent pattern of strong effects” derived from early interventions. Significantly, these substantial, long-term benefits are not necessarily limited to intellectual gains, but are most clearly seen by measures of “social performance” and “lifetime achievement”. In other words, people who participate in enriched early childhood programmes are more likely to complete school and much less likely to require welfare benefits, become teen parents or participate in criminal activities. Rather, they become productive adults.”

In general, research studies suggest that, in comparison to having no pre-school experience, all forms of pre-school experience have a positive impact on the levels of attainment in national assessment tests taken at age seven. In addition, pre-school attendance has been found to improve school commitment, reducing the risk of disaffection and delinquency during later schooling. However, the quality of that provision is a significant determinant of the effects on educational attainment. High-quality provision involves small groups of children, high adult-child ratios, a balanced curriculum and well-trained staff.

As the Member for West Tyrone Mr McElduff mentioned, all Members are aware that the Northern Ireland Audit Office (NIAO) report ‘Improving Literacy and Numeracy in Schools’ and the House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts report ‘Improving literacy and numeracy in schools (Northern Ireland)’ —

Madam Speaker: Will the Member draw his remarks to a close, please?

Mr D Bradley: — show that there are serious problems with the current literacy and numeracy strategy. I will not go through all the points made in that report but conclude by saying that the Department of Education has undertaken to carry out a review of the strategy. The opportunity should be taken to include any new strategy —

Madam Speaker: Mr Bradley, I must ask you to finish.

Mr D Bradley: — and any strategy that attempts to address educational attainment without tackling the underlying social deprivation at the same time will be doomed to failure. Thank you, a Cheann Comhairle.

11.00 am

Mr McCausland: I beg to move amendment No 2: At end insert

“The Assembly also notes the recent report on ‘Improving literacy and numeracy in schools’ in Northern Ireland by the House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts; and calls on the Department of Education to fully fund and implement an effective literacy and numeracy strategy; and further calls for the setting up of Education Action Zones in areas of high educational disadvantage.”

Across much of Northern Ireland our educational performance is high. Our system produces some of the best-qualified and educated young people in the United Kingdom. However, it is also true that there are significant areas of low educational attainment and disadvantage. It is imperative that special attention be given to the children and schools in communities where low educational attainment exists.

The Member for West Tyrone, Mr McElduff, referred specifically to the levels of disadvantage in the Shankill area and called for the area’s politicians to give leadership. In response, I point out that those of us who represent that area have been giving leadership, and my colleague from West Belfast will speak presently on that.

In fact, with regard to education, it is an area that I am particularly interested in having spent my teaching career in the Shankill area during the 70s and early 80s. Furthermore, having sat for many years on various schools’ boards of governors in those areas, I am familiar with the situation.

Therefore, when it comes to advising people, perhaps the Member for West Tyrone should give advice to colleagues from his own party on the Belfast Education and Library Board, so that when we propose that there be a more equitable allocation of resources so that areas such as the Shankill get their fair share, his colleagues will not vote against that.

Some Members: Hear, hear.

Mr McElduff: Will the Member give way?

Mr McCausland: No, because my time is quite limited.

When one realises that the Belfast Educational and Library Board spends only a few hundred pounds on youth services in areas such as lower Shankill, where there are large numbers of young people, and greater Ballysillan, where several thousand young people live, while approximately £80,000 is spent on an adjacent community, one realises that this is not a matter of objective need, but rather of disadvantage and discrimination.

It is right to highlight the commitment and dedication of the teachers in the schools, but often their task is made more difficult by decisions that are taken elsewhere. Having spoken to teachers in many schools and visited them on a regular basis, I cannot adequately express the appreciation that they deserve for their commitment and dedication. However, their task is often made more difficult by decisions made elsewhere, particularly in the Department of Education.

Quite often, decisions are made without properly consulting those who are actually teaching and working in the communities; they are the people who have a better insight into what is needed. The task of teachers and especially of principals in areas of educational disadvantage is often made harder by an ad hoc approach to tackling educational disadvantage.

For example, instead of a coherent approach to funding schools, principals are faced with a plethora of extra funding packages outside their core funding, with different criteria, mechanisms, timescales and accounting rules to draw down the money. The end result is that, while the resources are welcome, they may not be as effectively used as they might be. The system increases the administrative demands on principals already overstretched and under pressure, so if the Department of Education simply carried out its work in a more effective and systematic way, it could relieve some of the pressures on the principals and teachers in those schools, thereby freeing up more time for principals to deal with educational issues instead.

All children deserve a good start in life, and we have a responsibility to ensure that everything possible is done towards that objective. However, 20% of children leave school in Northern Ireland without achieving the required standard in numeracy and literacy. We talk about educational disadvantage and underachievement, but numeric and literary skills are essential for life. We need to understand why the problems arise and the factors that contribute to them.

The SDLP’s amendment is, therefore, valuable; it proposes that there should be a full investigation into the core issue of why the link exists. Unless the problem is known, there is no chance of solving it. It is important to identify the factors.

This is about more than simply financial disadvantage; it is about community and family issues, aspirations, ambitions, role models and the value that communities and societies place on education. All those factors feed into the difficulties that arise in these communities. Identifying the problems is, therefore, an initial and important step.

We also need a coherent and comprehensive strategy to address the situation and resolve the problems. That must be a sustained strategy, rather than one that lasts for 18 months or two years. To turn a community or a problem around is often a 10-year process.

There is a link between social disadvantage and educational disadvantage. My amendment proposes that:

“The Assembly also notes the recent report on ‘Improving literacy and numeracy in schools’ in Northern Ireland by the House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts”.

That report was published in November 2006. The amendment calls on the Department of Education to address this issue and to:

“fully fund and implement an effective literacy and numeracy strategy; and … for the setting up of Education Action Zones in areas of high educational disadvantage.”

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report notes that literacy and numeracy are key skills and that children who do not acquire an appropriate level of competence in those skills are seriously disadvantaged, possibly for the rest of their lives. The report highlights underachievement among boys, which constitutes a cultural challenge. It urges the Department to give particular attention to the worrying performance of boys in the Belfast Education and Library Board area. Educational underachievement is a widespread problem. However, it is particularly acute among boys in inner-city areas. There is a higher level of achieve-ment among girls. The reasons for that disparity must be identified and tackled.

The report also highlights the evidence it received that:

“among socially deprived communities in Belfast, significant differences between Protestant and Roman Catholic children exist in GSCE English and Mathematics … This raises a concern that children in Protestant working-class areas may not be enjoying equal educational opportunities.”

This issue comes through strongly in the report. The problem is across the board; it is more acute among boys than girls; and it is particularly acute in Protestant areas — especially among boys in working-class Protestant areas.

The differential in educational disadvantage between Protestant and Roman Catholic communities, even where there are similar levels of social disadvantage, was also highlighted in the report of the Government’s Taskforce on Protestant Working Class Communities. At the time of its publication, much attention was focused on the actions that were to follow from it. It was remiss of society not to pick up on the core problem of educational disadvantage in those areas, as highlighted in that report and in the PAC report.

The differential is influenced by more than the deprivation that is measured by the Noble indices. There are social factors that are almost impossible to measure, such as the value that a community or society places on education and the nature of the relationship between communities and schools. Those are complex problems that demand a comprehensive approach.

The PAC report goes on to say that the Department of Education is the lead body for education and, therefore, has a responsibility to ensure that an effective literacy and numeracy strategy is properly resourced and implemented. We must acknowledge the report because it is strong and specific in its criticisms and recommendations. When it appeared in November 2006, it did not receive the publicity that it should have. It would be remiss of the Assembly not to take this opportunity to draw attention to the report and to call on the Department of Education to respond to it in a meaningful and effective way.

Mr McNarry: The link between social disadvantage and poor educational attainment is, regrettably, clear and unambiguous. However, the failure of society to reverse the extent of social disadvantage — which, in turn, contributes to poor levels of educational attainment — is not a problem that is unique to Northern Ireland, nor should it be used as an excuse. That problem is common throughout the United Kingdom, and some people, therefore, do not believe that it is a priority that must be dealt with. Correspondingly, it should be acknowledged that the problem of poor educational achievement cannot and should not be laid at the feet of academic selection, which is used in Northern Ireland, or blamed on the non-selective system used in other parts of the United Kingdom.

I wonder whether the motion, which quite rightly commends the work of teachers, is entirely fair in calling for a strategic educational approach as the central means for raising academic achievement. Are we part of an enabling process? Are we more likely to get closer to the solution by seeking strategic approaches and investigations on the causes of social disadvantage and the impact that social deprivation has on children who are preparing for the first day when they enter a learning environment? Without such an enabling process, there is no doubt that children will — and do — suffer.

I believe that a child’s preparation for school begins at home, under parental influence. That influence endures through partnership between parents and teaching professionals during the child’s school life. I do not accept any rule of thumb or social measure that states that, because a child is not from an upwardly mobile background, or has unemployed parents, or has a single parent, or receives free school dinners, that young person should automatically be branded as socially disadvantaged and therefore expected to fail academically.

The solution to this problem cannot rest entirely within an education system or in its application. It is alarming that so many young people are leaving school without basic qualifications and remain dependent on the state for income support. The savings to be made by getting people off the unemployed list and into gainful employment would make it worthwhile to carefully examine expenditure aimed at dealing with numeracy and literacy failings at the youngest possible age — not long afterwards when young people are about to leave school. We make a mistake by addressing the issue only when children are about to leave school with no qualifications, rather than when they are beginning school. Putting additional resources into early-years learning would make sense. The rewards would be priceless, and society would benefit in real terms.

Members will recall with concern and disappointment the 2006 House of Commons Public Accounts Com-mittee report on improving literacy and numeracy in our schools. I believe that one comment in that report stands out:

“ The Department’s record on literacy and numeracy suggests to us that it has lacked commitment to and confidence in its target setting.”

The report also stated:

“We also expect the Department to maintain a consistent approach to targets rather than adjust them when results are falling short.”

Moreover, the report spells out the depth of the problem and where educational responsibility ultimately lies:

“The Committee expects the Department for Education to take urgent steps to improve the teaching of literacy and numeracy within schools. This is essential if we are to ensure that deficiencies in literacy and numeracy do not continue to be a major handicap for future generations of young adults after they leave school.”

Is that not it? That is the core element of the strategic approach required to ensure that future generations do not leave school deficient in numeracy and literacy skills.

11.15 am

The Department’s response to the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee was that work is under way to address the plethora of challenges issued by the Committee. If Members are to believe that, how long do we have to wait for ideas, suggestions and reasons — or even excuses — that can explain how children in Protestant working-class areas may not be enjoying equal educational opportunities? How will the facts that more Protestant 19 to 24 year olds than Roman Catholic 19 to 24 year olds lack basic qualifications and that Protestant males make up the highest proportion in that age group be explained?

I do not ask these questions to suggest that Roman Catholic children are subjected any less to social deprivation and the resultant deficiency in numeracy and literacy skills; that is not the case. Rather I wonder why the evidence shows that marked difference between Protestants and Roman Catholics. For the problem to be resolved, the approach simply must acknowledge that and concentrate on dealing with the problem cutting across our community. There is no sectarian or religious divide in this issue.

The motion draws attention to the issue, and both amendments go some way towards seeking out further matters that need to be addressed urgently. However, what is missing — and perhaps we will hear it later — is a firm indication that this House more than cares about young people who live in socially disadvantaged conditions and young people who leave school educationally disadvantaged. Those are two distinct issues, but they are linked by shared consequences for some — although not all — young people.

If we can explore that commonality and resolve those dual issues that result in disadvantage at home and at school, we will be able to devise strategies for implementation. If we just sit back and talk about the issue, we simply add to the growing list of young people without basic qualifications. The motion and the amendments are a start. I hope that this is the beginning of the end of the talking, and I support the motion accordingly.

Mr Campbell: This topic is important, and I wish to address my brief remarks to elements of both amendments, which were tabled in the names of SDLP Members and my colleague Mr McCausland.

There is no doubt that much research has been carried out on underachievement, and the underachievement of urban working-class Protestant children has become part of folklore, with the children on the Shankill Road being singled out for particular attention. Efforts have been made to establish why that is the case and to consider what improvements can be made.

I particularly support both amendments, the first of which calls for an investigation into the reasons why social disadvantage is linked to educational underachievement.

Mr O’Dowd: On a point of order, Madam Speaker. On behalf of my party, it is my duty to wind on the motion. However, if Members are not prepared to say whether they support the substantive motion, it is difficult to ascertain whether they are supporting it or are speaking against it. Is it in order for Members to state their position at the start of their address?

Madam Speaker: Mr O’Dowd, my understanding is that Members do not necessarily have to comment on the motion at the start of their speech — they can do so at any time during the speech. The content of Members’ speeches is obviously a matter for Members, but usual convention is that they comment on the motion at some stage during their address.

Mr Campbell: Thank you for that freedom, Madam Speaker. I am glad that we have the liberty to speak and elaborate on the subject matter. If there was some concern among Sinn Féin circles at the start of my speech, I am sure that there will be even more as I reach the end.

The links are there and are well documented. The Department of Education must produce a full report that establishes how literacy and numeracy skills can be increased in those sections of the community where the problem is greatest.

In these few minutes, I will dwell on an issue that to date has not been brought to the fore, namely a parental issue in Protestant working-class areas. It has been suggested in recent years that due to the loss of the heavy-engineering capacity of the 1960s and 1970s and the employment opportunities that arose from it, some parents do not assist and persevere with their children through education. Many urban working-class parents do not take that line.

Those employment opportunities have not been available in Northern Ireland for 15 or 20 years. However, the public sector in Northern Ireland has continued to employ around 60% of the workforce. If children are to get employment, promotion and all that is best for them, most parents know that that is statistically more likely in the public sector. There is a perception among many parents in urban working-class Protestant areas that that is a closed shop for their children. Therefore there is no incentive for them to get the qualifications required for employment in an area that statistics have shown to be more difficult for them. I applaud the SDLP amendment for that reason and because it is necessary to establish the links that exist between social disadvantage and educational attainment.

I have tabled a motion with regard to the public sector workforce that, hopefully, will come up in the weeks ahead. Effectively, this would enable us to reassure parents in working-class areas that there are openings and incentives for their children and that if the education establishment can ensure that children attain the numeracy and literacy skills and qualifications to go on to higher education and then into the public sector, there would be no closed door. Currently, there is a closed door to many from Protestant working-class communities in agencies such as the Housing Executive and the Child Support Agency. When that door is seen to be opened, parents from those areas will ensure that their children are incentivised to get the education they need. However, the Department for Education must draw out the links that exist between under-attainment and socially disadvantaged areas.

That is why I support the motion, and why, if the amendments are accepted, the entire House should be able to support the motion. If so, we can make progress. If the reasons for these links are established, it will open up not just educational attainment but the prospects for better employment across the community. That will be advantageous and positive for the entire community. Given that, I am delighted to add my name not just to the motion, but also to the motion as amended.

Mr K Robinson: I congratulate the Members who brought the timely motion and the amendments to the attention of the House. I will begin by declaring an interest: I am a governor in two primary schools in Newtownabbey. One is set in a leafy suburban avenue, and the other is in the middle of a public housing estate. Both schools are served by dedicated teaching staff, are led by energetic and visionary principals, are supported by interested parents and have the confidence of their communities. However, there the similarities begin to disappear.

One of the schools has a stable budget, an enrolment figure of almost 100% and a settled and experienced teaching staff. It does not have any composite classes. The other has composite classes, an unpredictable and inadequate budget, and it is forced to shed a member of staff annually. In many cases, the most experienced staff offer themselves since, in budgetary terms, they are the most expensive, and, by emulating Captain Oates, they sacrifice themselves to save the school the greatest amount of money.

Therefore the system, as currently operated by the Department, increases the risk of failure for some children and adds to the educational disadvantage of an entire community. It is little wonder that sections of society undervalue education when the educational establishment so obviously undervalues them.

The link between social disadvantage and educational attainment is clearly seen on examination of two wards in greater Belfast. The Hillfoot ward is apparently the least deprived in Belfast. In that ward, some 75% of school leavers achieve five or more GCSEs at grade C or above, 75% enter further or higher education, and fewer than 2% are entitled to free school meals. By contrast, the Shankill ward is the most deprived. In that ward, 26% of school leavers achieve five or more GCSEs at grade C or above, and fewer than 20% go on to third-level education. It is also worth noting that a massive 54% of post-primary pupils are entitled to free school meals in the most deprived of wards.

At primary level, 37% of 11-year-olds in the more deprived wards failed to reach level 4 English, and the comparable figure for Northern Ireland is 23% overall. Thirty three per cent of 11-year-olds in those wards failed to reach level 4 maths, compared with 21% across Northern Ireland. Those children were failing before they reached the age of 11; they were not failed by a selective system. Rather, there are inherent weaknesses in the system from its earliest years and before formal schooling even begins.

There are community influences that cause one in every five women to have no formal qualifications and one in every four men to be without basic qualifications. There are also stark differences between the two com-munities. In the 19 to 24 age cohort, 27% of Protestant males lack qualifications and 19% of Roman Catholic females are without basic qualifications. Gender, community and location have a bearing and influence on the potential outcomes of our young people and what they can expect to experience.

The House of Commons Public Accounts Com-mittee published a report in December 2006 entitled ‘Improving literacy and numeracy in schools (Northern Ireland)’, and it makes many observations. Most of them question the role of the Department of Education, and rightly so. If any school had received such a scathing report from the inspectorate, the principal would have been replaced, the staff retrained and the governors retired. The report found “disturbing differences” in achievement between pupils of different religious backgrounds in the Belfast area. Among the socially deprived, the report found that there were “significant differences” between the attainment of Protestant and Roman Catholic children in GCSE English and Maths. The report further noted that the Committee “expects” the Department of Education to take urgent steps to improve the teaching of literacy and numeracy in schools, and that:

“The Department has a pressing responsibility to take the lead in identifying and championing best practice in literacy and numeracy teaching in schools.”

The report also stated that the Department needs to provide “a clear direction and impetus” in the promotion of literacy and numeracy performance.

The Public Accounts Committee report states:

“The Committee will be interested to learn what steps the Department takes to address the issue.”

The report further notes that the Committee was extremely disappointed that targets had been frequently adjusted.

11.30 am

As Members of the House, we also expect the Department to maintain targets rather than to adjust them when results are falling short. Does that not suggest a Department that was so busy focusing time, effort and funding on tilting at the windmill of selection that it failed to address its most basic function? That function is to ensure that all pupils complete their primary education armed with the two essential skills on which the rest of their educational progress depends — adequate levels of literacy and numeracy.

The failure of the Department to grasp that fact is as startling as it is inexcusable. It must now seriously address the factors that inhibit progress in deprived areas rather than galloping off on a crusade of social engineering. The Department should examine current pupil-teacher ratios in the areas that the report highlighted. The Department could do that by forming a task force from the current high number of unemployed young teachers whose enthusiasm could be merged with the expertise of staff already in schools who understand the needs of deprived communities.

Let the Department expand and properly fund initiatives such as the Sure Start and Reading Recovery programmes. Reading Recovery programmes have proved to improve a child’s reading ability by 20 months within a calendar year; if that is not available in a school, a child’s reading ability may only improve by five months, and the child may thereby fall further behind. What happens in Northern Ireland? The funding is cut. What happens in England? They seek to expand such initiatives. Such schemes are designed to raise standards in schools; instead of being stop-start, they should be mainstreamed where the need to raise standards is obvious rather than the current crazy system, where expertise is pushed back into a classroom and financial support is removed.

If a school succeeds, how is it rewarded? The money is taken away. Teachers are trained to teach these fairly skilled operations, but what happens? The school cannot afford to have teachers out there and pushes them back into a classroom. That inexplicable process infuriates the school principal and staff, and who knows what danger it causes a child or parent whose expectations have been raised only to be dashed?

Finally, Madam Speaker, I wish to repeat — and I am sure that you will object — my plea for 50:50 recruitment among the teaching force. Since 1998, male applicants to the primary-school-teacher course at Stranmillis University College have dropped from 23% to 17%. At the same time, male intake to the post-primary teaching course has slumped from 41% to 28%. That is a serious reflection on how men view the teaching profession and the career structure that it provides.

In modern society, especially in many deprived areas, the one-parent family is becoming more prevalent. Young boys growing up in such a situation are denied the opportunity of finding a positive male role model in the home. Increasingly, they are also failing to find a positive male role model in school, especially during the formative early years of primary education. That situation must be addressed if we are to interest boys in education.

If the Government can manipulate the recruitment of policing and attempt to justify it as being in the interests of the community, they can introduce the same principle into teacher training in the interests of society. Failure to do so will reinforce other socially undesirable routes to status that are, unfortunately, available in marginalised communities. However, such routes ultimately lead not only to ruin for an individual but ruin for the area concerned.

As you will know, Madam Speaker, the Committee for Education discussed this issue when this body functioned properly in the past. We brought the issue to the attention of previous Ministers and sought advice from across the United Kingdom. Eight years later, I cannot understand why decisive steps have still not been taken to ensure that those children who are most marginalised and deprived, who, time and again, have been readily identified as such, cannot be served by a decent education system.

Mr Brolly: Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I support the motion and the amendments tabled to it. Poverty is one of the greatest issues that British direct rule has failed to tackle.

All the evidence demonstrates that child poverty must be addressed through early intervention. However, the loss of both teaching and support staff, particularly from schools that operate in areas of multiple deprivation, only further undermines support for those most at risk from poverty. That is why I support the motion and the proposed amendments.

In November 2006, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation launched a report that monitored poverty and social exclusion in the North. In chapter 8, which considered education, the findings on outcomes for younger children were:

“On average, the higher the level of deprivation in a school, the less likely it is that its children will have reached level 4 at age 11.”

In the most deprived fifth of schools, however, about one third of children do not reach that level.

The findings also revealed:

“In English, 37 per cent of 11-year-olds in the most deprived fifth of primary schools failed to reach level 4 in 2005. This compares with an average of 23 per cent for all schools. In maths, the figures were similar but slightly lower: 33 per cent in the most deprived fifth of primary schools failing to reach level 4 compared to 21 per cent for all schools.”

The findings on 16-year-olds lacking reasonable GCSEs showed:

“In 2004/05, 5 per cent of 16-year-olds obtained no GCSEs, 9 per cent obtained some but fewer than five GCSEs and a further 23 per cent obtained five GCSEs but not all at grade C.”

The findings continued:

“As a whole, this headline measure has come down, from 47 per cent in 1994/95 to 37 per cent in 2004/05. But almost all of this fall has been in the group getting five GCSEs but not at grades A-C. By contrast, there has been no fall in the numbers getting no GCSEs and no fall since 1997/98 in the numbers getting fewer than five. Rather, as the headline measure has gradually improved, the proportion getting few or no GCSEs at all has remained largely unchanged at around 15 per cent, or one in seven of all 16-year-olds.”

Of those children who are entitled to free school meals, the report states:

“the proportion getting few or no GCSEs has remained at around 30 per cent over the decade, double the rate for all 16-year-olds on average.”

The report highlights young people who have been in care as a particularly disadvantaged group. It states:

“In 2003, 50 per cent of those young people who leave care had no qualifications at all on leaving school — 10 times the national average — and only 10 per cent got 5 or more GCSEs grades A-C compared to a national average of 60 per cent.”

The findings on the destination of school-leavers revealed:

“On average, the higher a local area’s level of deprivation, the lower will be the proportion of its school leavers going on to further or higher education. For example, over the four years to 2001/02, some 45 per cent of school leavers living in the most deprived fifth of wards went on to further or higher education compared with 65 per cent in wards with average levels of deprivation.”

The report states that about 10% of 16-year-olds to 18-year-olds in the North — some 10,000 people — are not in education, employment or training. Among 19-year-olds to 24-year-olds, more young men than young women — 24% compared with 20% — lack basic qualifications.

(Mr Deputy Speaker [Mr Molloy] in the Chair)

Among young men and young women, more Protestants than Catholics lack basic qualifications. The group with the highest proportion lacking basic qualifications is young Protestant men, at 27%, and the group with the smallest proportion lacking such qualifications is young Catholic women, at 19%.

It is a matter of regret that some politicians refuse to support change to a system that has not served our children, particularly the most needy, well. I again commend my colleague Martin McGuinness for having relieved us of the embarrassment of the 11-plus, a system that condemns 75% of 11-year-olds to the educational and social scrap heap, demoralising many who are already deeply demoralised.

Twenty-two per cent of the working-age population in the North lack any qualifications. That proportion is far higher than anywhere else in Britain or Ireland. The anti-poverty strategy Lifetime Opportunities has proposed four cross-cutting themes in relation to children, sustainability and a shared future. The goal for early-years, which covers the ages of 0 to 4 years is:

“to ensure that every child should have a chance to develop their full potential in infancy regardless of social background.”

The goal for children aged between 5 and 16 is:

“to allow all children and young people to experience a happy and fulfilling childhood, while equipping them with the education, skills and experience to achieve their potential to be citizens of tomorrow.”

Again, unless we truly recognise the link between social disadvantage and educational attainment, and are radical and brave enough to change the old status quo, we will be failing our children.

The anti-poverty strategy’s goal for people of working age is:

“to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to fully participate in economic, social and cultural life.”

Tell that to children in care who leave school with no qualifications or to many of the North’s citizens who see employment as the route out of poverty. However, employment is not an option for those with disabilities, for example, or for people caring for young children or older relatives. We must consider all our people.

Through its skills strategy, the Department for Employment and Learning is committed to ensuring that the workforce is literate and numerate by 2015. However, many will not achieve that or reach an acceptable level of competence unless this Assembly recognises the link between social disadvantage and educational attainment and sets itself to do something about it. Go raibh míle maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle.

Ms Farrell: Other Members have highlighted the links between social disadvantage and educational achievement in children. I shall take this opportunity to briefly consider how the situation applies to adults and 16- to 19-year-olds — the people whom the education system has failed.

I have spent all my working life in education. Until the Christmas holidays just past, I was involved in the implementation of the Department for Employment and Learning’s essential skills programme. That programme was introduced by my colleague Carmel Hanna when she was Minister for that Department.

The United Kingdom has the highest rate of literacy problems in Europe, and Northern Ireland has the highest such rate in the United Kingdom.

It is estimated that one in four of the adult population of Northern Ireland lacks the basic skills essential to function fully in our society — they cannot read a bus or train timetable; they cannot complete everyday forms; they cannot read to their children or help them with their homework; and, in some instances, they cannot read the instructions on prescription medicines.

11.45 am

We are all familiar with the “gremlins” advertisement on television, which encourages adults to take advantage of the excellent provision available under the essential skills programme. The Department for Employment and Learning is to be congratulated on this initiative and on the funding that has been made available through it; however, it was long overdue.

Fifteen years ago, I was seconded from my further education college to the Southern Education and Library Board in order to develop its paltry adult education provision. At that time, adult literacy classes were totally underfunded. They were generally held in cold, leaky mobile classrooms at the edge of college campuses using volunteer tutors and learning material that was designed for young children. There was a stigma attached to attending those classes. Many adults spent years trying to pluck up the courage to take the first step across the door. Where transport was available, they would often travel to another town for fear of being spotted attending literacy classes by someone they knew.

Although there was little or no money, dedicated staff throughout the North dreamed up innovative ways of addressing the problem and removing the stigma. I think of the exciting “cook the books” project in Whiterock adult education centre, where women learned literacy and numeracy skills through the medium of cookery classes, thereby removing the stigma of going to learn to read and count. There are other examples throughout the country. Eventually, the introduction of computers lent dignity to the situation, with adult learners able to say that they were going to computer classes rather than to adult literacy classes.

This motion recognises the sterling work of educationalists, and there are many unsung heroes and heroines out there who have worked to help adults overcome social disadvantage through basic education. Tribute must be paid to the Educational Guidance Service for Adults, to the adult provision in the further education colleges and to the many voluntary organisations in the field.

Throughout the North there are groups and centres battling away daily to address the issue of overcoming social deprivation through adult education. That can be seen particularly in the area of women’s education. Again, tribute must be paid to the Training for Women Network, which, through EU funding mechanisms, has supported a wide range of women’s education programmes throughout the North. We see them in our cities, towns and villages. In my own constituency of Lagan Valley, wonderful work is being done by the Footprints Women’s Centre in Poleglass and the Atlas project in Lisburn.

I could relate countless tales of adults’, particularly women’s, journeys through education and of how they have grown, gained confidence, found fulfilment and ended their cycle of poverty. Unfortunately, I do not have the time, but local newspapers regularly carry photographs of mature students on graduation day proudly holding the degrees that they have obtained, having worked their way through the adult progression route, through access provision and finally to a degree.

Amendment No 1 calls for an investigation into the reasons for the link between social disadvantage and educational attainment. Of particular concern to educationalists in the field of adult education is the difficulty in attracting men into the provision. That is not peculiar to Northern Ireland and is probably linked to the fact that girls are, as some Members mentioned earlier, outperforming boys throughout the education system. However, some research into the lack of male participation in adult education would be welcomed.

I started by saying that one aspect of my recent work involved the embedding of essential skills in further education. Specifically, this work was with young men in the construction trades — boys who, under the new guidelines, have to attain level 2 in literacy and numeracy, the equivalent of grade C at GCSE. Many of them are reluctant learners in further education. They have joined the construction industry and do not quite understand why they still have to do mathematics and English; they thought that they had left all that behind them at the school gate. However, they give examples, from their work experience on building sites, of mature men in their communities who carry the burden of illiteracy and are prevented from achieving their full potential in a society where the basic skills are so necessary in this day and age.

Although sterling work has been done, some people in Northern Ireland are still caught in the trap of social disadvantage. That trap has been brought about through lack of education. Let us investigate the links, highlight the good practice and develop measures to address the issue.

I support the motion.

Mr Copeland: As I have done previously, I am speaking to a motion for which there is an absence of muscle that can transmit the thoughts of the House into legislation. At this stage, there is little point in doing anything else. We are involved in a process that could be described as political speed-dating: we are not quite sure of the outcome, but its function will be to meet interesting people in the hope that something else in the future might occur.

I must declare an interest based on the fact that a substantial number of the citizens of my constituency fall into those categories that are bandied about: the “socially deprived” and the “disadvantaged”. I am not comfortable with apportioning those titles to any of our citizens, but I must do so because of the way in which statistical information on this matter is gathered.

It is probably patently obvious to all Members that I did not receive the benefit of a grammar-school or a third-level education. A few days ago, the Speaker of the House and I shared what I can only describe as a wonderful and moving experience in the Senate Chamber. Two groups of children, one from Holy Cross Boys’ Primary School in North Belfast and the other from Beechfield Primary School on the interface of my own constituency, came together for a debate. They had prepared an Order Paper, apportioned speakers, the Speaker presided over the debate and Hansard reported it. They had their speeches prepared, and their points and arguments were well made. They eventually resolved that, in future, children would not be required to wear school uniforms.

Members might think that that is a minor event, but those children come from two areas that have similar housing, aspirational and unemployment circumstances. They are also similar in that those terms that we use, “disadvantage” and “underachievement”, can be applied to them. They are identical in every respect apart from where they choose or choose not to go to church on Sundays. They put their points forcefully, eloquently and intelligently, and I found it humbling. At the end of the debate, I explained to them that if any of them had been MLAs, what they had proposed and agreed on would in a few short weeks be a matter of law. I hope that somewhere, in some of those kids, a seed was planted that will convince them that change can be occasioned by words.

My son is an interesting case. When he was nine years old, we were told that he would never be able to read and write. Consequently, we did not subject him to the vagaries of the transfer procedure, and he went instead to Lagan College. He entered the lowest academic stream of that school. Although the alphabet that described his class was constructed in such a way that he was not supposed to know about the stream that he was in, he did know. By work, by luck and by growing older, he managed to move up through the school’s system to such a degree that he got four As, two Bs and a C. He wants to be a doctor, and he is on course to be so. However, it will take him until he is 27 to achieve that because he did single- instead of double-award science.

The truth is that the brightest gems are found in the darkest mines, the richest coal in the deepest seas, and the most precious metals are the hardest and most expensive to extract. We must not permit the postcode area in which a child is born to affect his or her entire life. Education makes people free, but there is a cost.

I am a simple person. At one stage, I concluded that the primary responsibilities of education boards were to ensure that everyone had access to the possibility of change that could be brought about through education.

Imagine my shock and horror when I discovered that the primary legislative requirement on education boards is to live within their budgets.

The answer to all of the questions that have been raised during this debate can be summed up in just a few words: the funding of need. This House and this society must value education and believe in our heart of hearts that education can create change. We must take steps to ensure that those at one end of the spectrum — those who enjoy the benefits of grammar schools; who go to universities; and who go to London and elsewhere in England, Wales, Scotland, or around the world — return to this Province the investment that we have made in them.

Mrs D Dodds: There is no doubt that there are distinct connections between social deprivation and poor educational attainment. However, it is very important that we do not automatically place all children from socially disadvantaged backgrounds in one category. Some schools with pupils from such backgrounds prove that excellence in education is possible for all.

Although there is much good work being done in individual schools, there is a growing recognition that the Department of Education has not served our children well. I agree with the Member for Strangford David McNarry, who cited the failure of the Department’s 1998 literacy and numeracy strategy. Instead of implementing targets, the Department simply shifted the goalposts and allowed targets to slip. That type of leadership is partly responsible for the lack of success that has led us to where we are today.

The 2006 report of the Westminster Public Accounts Committee on improving literacy and numeracy in schools draws serious conclusions that are of specific concern to those of us who represent socially deprived areas, particularly in the greater Belfast area. The report states that:

“among socially deprived communities in Belfast, significant differences between Protestant and Roman Catholic children exist in GCSE English and Mathematics. This raises a concern that children in Protestant working-class areas may not be enjoying equal educational opportunities.”

That conclusion mirrors the findings presented in the Department for Social Development’s ‘Renewing Communities’ document, which stated that a lack of educational attainment is a serious concern for Protestant communities.

Wards in my constituency, such as Shankill, Crumlin, Woodvale, Highfield and Glencairn, show high levels of deprivation and are among the most deprived areas in terms of education and skills. By focusing on these areas, I am neither denying nor condoning the existence of educational deprivation in other areas. However, these areas of my constituency are often cited as examples of deprivation, and perhaps it will be useful for this House to examine how the Department of Education has let children down in those communities.

In October 2003, the then Education Minister, Jane Kennedy, visited the Shankill area. She subsequently announced that £2·7 million would be made available for education action zones, which, she claimed, would be:

“child-centred, multi-agency responses based in local schools and working with the local community to improve services [that will] complement existing successful structures, such as the North-West and West Belfast & Greater Shankill Task Forces … I would see the first Education Action Zone coming on stream by September 2004.”

That sounded good, but by the autumn of 2004, with no education action zone in sight, I made further representations to that very forgettable Education Minister, Barry Gardiner. He wrote back to say that the goalposts had been moved and that there was no requirement for an education action zone to be based in a particular area, but that it could be thematic, and that education and library boards would be invited to submit bids for such funding.

It is to the shame of the Department of Education and a series of Education Ministers that no such education action zone has materialised in that educationally disadvantaged area of Northern Ireland.

12.00 noon

At a recent meeting with the current Minister a couple of weeks ago, she admitted that education action zones in her own constituency have proved to have a positive effect, when managed well and working to specific targets for improvement. Here, however, it seems that such specific, targeted action is well beyond the capabilities of the Department of Education.

Today, I demand that the Minister take immediate steps to introduce an education action zone in the greater Shankill area. She must ensure that there is sufficient funding to improve teacher-pupil ratios and to provide extra special-needs teachers. She must also take steps to improve access to healthcare professionals such as speech and language therapists, who are in such short supply.

With no progress on an education action zone, local teachers and community workers in the Shankill area got together with the Belfast Education and Library Board and the North and West Belfast Health Action Zone to submit a bid to the Integrated Development Fund, which administers a pot of money generated by the West Belfast and Greater Shankill Task Forces. Almost four years later, that has not resulted in any funding being made available to hard-pressed teachers and communities in the greater Shankill and west Belfast areas.

Perhaps we should consider recent statements and initiatives. Following consultation with school principals in the greater Shankill and in north Belfast, several initiatives that could aid the education sector were identified in the renewing communities action plan. Recent meetings that my colleague for North Belfast and I attended with school principals from north Belfast showed that they are experiencing a slow, backlogged system that finds it almost impossible to release funding to schools on time, leaving principals with too much bureaucracy and the additional burden of finding alternative finance for schemes until the necessary funding is released.

Last year, the Secretary of State announced the children and young people’s fund, with money becoming available for extended schools. To date, the Belfast Education and Library Board has released only 25% of the funds for this year, and it is almost the end of January. How can school principals deliver a service when such action clogs the system?

Children with special educational needs are particularly affected in areas of social disadvantage. The complicated system of obtaining adequate healthcare and education provision often means that parents find it difficult to access services. Parents find the statementing system complicated and intimidating. I fear that it disadvantages children from deprived backgrounds whose parents do not have the support or clout to demand extra provision for their children.

The current system of funding for special needs disadvantages children in Belfast. The city has a disproportionately high number of children with educational and emotional needs but does not receive extra funding to support them. The difference in approach from one education and library board to another means a difference in the service provided to children. A common approach should be a priority for the new single education authority, and there should be strong criteria for funding to ensure that provision for special needs is applied to all areas equitably.

Another aspect of educational disadvantage that particularly affects children with special needs is the shortage of educational psychologists. Last year, the Belfast Education and Library Board had the equivalent of 26 full-time educational psychologists, servicing a growing list of demands from children in the area.

This year it is 23, and, because of difficulties with offering long-term contracts, they are finding it very difficult to recruit extra educational psychologists into the system. If a child does not see an educational psychologist, he will not get a statement of needs and his rights will be infringed. That also needs to be urgently addressed.

I have confined myself to my own constituency for a very important reason: too often Education Ministers, the Secretary of State and every other politician have used the Shankill for a cheap headline about the lack of educational attainment or, indeed, the fuzzy feel-good picture that announces some initiative. Today I have tried to explain to the House why these areas continue to fail. They continue to fail because in spite of plenty of announcements, we have little sustained follow-up action. If we are to break the cycle of deprivation in these communities, we need to pay attention to that action and ensure that it is sustained over a long and specific period of time.

I support the amendment in the name of my party colleague and urge the House to do likewise.

Mr Dallat: I am delighted with the debate that we have had here this morning. I hope that every new Member who turns up to the Assembly on 26 March is given a copy of the Hansard report of this debate, because it will hold all the solutions to the problems that afflict so many people in society. I do not want to be repetitive, but 25% of people between the ages of 16 and 64 suffer from serious levels of illiteracy and innumeracy. My new colleague, Marietta Farrell, spoke very well about that.

Barry McElduff opened the debate and ventured into the heartlands of unionism. Of course, he got a response to that, but the issues we are addressing this morning do not know any political boundaries. They exist everywhere, and I will touch on that later.

Dominic Bradley highlighted the neighbourhood effects of social deprivation and urged us to focus on a broader initiative. He also talked about multiple deprivation. Nelson McCausland, who represents North Belfast, has spoken in the past about this. I certainly think that he made a convincing argument for greater equality. Norman McNarry made a very valuable contribution —

Mr Kennedy: His name is David.

Mr Dallat: My apologies. He was the first to mention the most recent Public Accounts Committee report.

Gregory Campbell ventured into the old sectarian issues and mentioned the closed door on public jobs. I should like to remind him that the door for public jobs in Coleraine is open at the moment, but it is open outwards, whether you are Siobhan or Sammy, Silvia or Sean. That is the door to County Hall, to HM Revenue and Customs and, shortly, to the Social Security Agency. Those people who will be losing their jobs in the public service will have nowhere to go because Coleraine has an extremely narrow industrial base. That is very sad; it is not something to laugh about.

Francie Brolly pointed out that while the number of children leaving school with five or more GCSEs is rising, the number leaving with none has not changed; that is a matter for regret.

I listened carefully to Michael Copeland, who spoke about his son; all of us could learn something from that. If all children were given the right support, they could achieve the best.

Diane Dodds confined her contribution to issues that affect north Belfast, and other Members have also covered that area. She rightly pointed out that the £2·7 million that was promised for the action zone was not delivered. Since the introduction of direct rule, that is the type of diet on which we have been fed.

Mr Adams: Will the Member give way?

Mr Dallat: I will not give way while I am making my winding-up speech. On second thoughts, since it is yourself, Gerry, I will give way.

Mr Adams: Maith thú. Tá mé buíoch den Chomhalta. Tá brón orm nach raibh mé anseo ar maidin nuair a bhí an Teach ag plé an ábhair thábhachtaigh seo.

I thank the Member for giving way, and I apologise that I was not here earlier for the debate.

By the way, I was late in arriving to the Chamber because I was meeting the direct-rule Minister with responsibility for education; we met specifically on the need to establish an educational initiative for the Shankill. Does the Member agree that all our young people have a right to equality of opportunity, based on objective need, including the best educational standards for the Shankill as well as for the Falls, and for all places in between?

Mr Dallat: I could not agree more, which is why I was somewhat disappointed when, on two occasions during the mandate of the Northern Ireland Assembly, the then Minister of Education lowered the attainment targets for Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 3; on a third occasion, he extended the time limit. Manipulating, and tampering with, targets is not the way to achieve the kind of success about which Gerry Adams has just spoken.

A previous Public Accounts Committee quizzed representatives from the Education and Training Inspectorate. I asked them why they were not screaming from the roof tops about the lack of support that there is for teachers in many schools in socially deprived areas. The officials wrote up glossy reports and persecuted good teachers, forcing them out of the profession early, but they did not address the issues.

This issue was discussed in previous Assemblies. One of the most influential contributions was made by our deceased colleague David Ervine, who, time and again, spoke passionately about educational poverty in loyalist areas of Belfast. He also spoke about the low number of children who pass the 11-plus in those districts and about the absolute need to tackle social disadvantage by ensuring that every child has an equal chance of maximising his or her educational potential.

I have no doubt that David Ervine understood that education is the greatest weapon to give to any child; my mother, God rest her, repeatedly told me that. Education is a far more powerful weapon than a gun or anything else that may have been used in the past to change our society. It remains so, and I am glad that everyone accepts that fact.

Social disadvantage is not confined to those areas about which David Ervine spoke; it is everywhere in Northern Ireland. Today, the threat is not about being sucked into paramilitarism but into drugs, crime and the other evils that compound the very social disadvantage that we are discussing. Social disadvantage is regional, as is illustrated by the various indicators that are used by the Government and their agencies. In Coleraine, the most affluent wards sit cheek by jowl with the most socially deprived wards. The same applies elsewhere, but it applies particularly in the north-west and in other border regions. Recent announcements that have been made by various Departments to centralise Civil Service jobs, either in Belfast or in marginal constituencies across the water, do nothing to address social disadvantage. I suspect that the jobs that are being lost in Coleraine and other places are being relocated for the wrong reasons.

12.15 pm

I worry about the capacity of any future Assembly to address those — and other — issues that have arisen for historical reasons or as a result of neglect by direct-rule Ministers who have been here for 30 years too long.

I am no longer certain that all political parties are committed to decentralisation. I hope that I am not giving away any secrets by saying that the Subgroup on Workplace 2010 and Public Sector Job Location had considerable trouble finding a form of words that suited the DUP. However, I hope that decentralisation becomes a major issue in the new Assembly.

We need to move on and get the Assembly up and running. It needs to be not a piece of window dressing to stabilise democracy but a vehicle that will, without difference, introduce policies that will address genuinely the inequalities, injustices and discrimination that affect the lives of so many people in both communities and, indeed, in ethnic minority communities.

For too long, the twin evils of poor education and social disadvantage have been used not to fix, but to exploit, the problem. That has been unhelpful and, dare I say it, disgraceful. I hope that the time has come when our only reason to talk about the crisis is to fix it. The best way that we can reach that point is to tell the world that we are no longer sitting on the fence playing funny wee games; we are going after the real issues that affect people who have suffered grievously and who have borne the worst brunt of the instability and violence that I hope is part of history. I hope that the Assembly exists on 26 March so that we can take action as a result of today’s debate.

Mr O’Dowd: Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle.

In making my winding-up speech, I commend my party colleague for tabling the motion. I support the amendments, both of which he has accepted. That shows political maturity on his part and on the part of my party. It has been disappointing that recently in the Chamber, regardless of the value of amendments, they are opposed because they have been tabled by Sinn Féin. There is no need for Members to go into their safe zones just because a political party to which they may be politically or diametrically opposed tables a motion or amendment.

Many interesting contributions have been made today. The debate has been good, given the extent to which any debate in this Assembly can be useful. However, it has been interesting to hear the various views from around the Chamber on social disadvantage and educational underachievement. I listened carefully to Nelson McCausland’s contribution. It was interesting because he quoted from various reports that have identified underachievement in Protestant areas. That underachievement clearly exists. To paraphrase him, he said that a report is needed on the reasons for that underachievement. I could not agree with him more. As has been said, if 27% of young Protestant males leave school with no qualifications, that means that we as a society have collectively failed them. We must identify the reasons for that.

(Madam Speaker in the Chair)

There are many interesting reasons for that. John Dallat spoke about David Ervine, whose contribution is missed today. David Ervine spoke at length on this matter and on the attitudes in the Protestant/loyalist community to itself, to education and to its sense of a lack of pride. Far be it from me to discuss a report that has not been written, but as an outsider looking in, I see that the influence of role models is one reason for those attitudes. As politicians, we are all role models. If a politician continues to tell his or her community that there is no confidence, that we are on the road to rack and ruin and that there is no future, generations coming after him or her will listen and garner no hope from that message. However, if that politician tells his or her community that there is a future, that we can work our way through those difficulties and that we can collectively build a new future on this island, surely hope and optimism will be instilled in that community. That will then filter down to the young people, who will see education as the way out of poverty.

It is remarkable that those on the Benches opposite continue to support the 11-plus, despite all the evidence that we have heard —

Mr McNarry: The Member is misrepresenting it. Withdraw that.

Mr O’Dowd: David, with respect, I will come to your comments in a moment.

The Members opposite continue to support the 11-plus, which has clearly been shown to discriminate against those in disadvantaged areas. However, the system has to be approved —

Mr Kennedy: I thank the Member for giving way, but he needs to do more research. It is clear that the 11-plus no longer enjoys widespread political support, but that is separate, and entirely different, from academic selection. The Member had better understand the difference between the two.

Mr O’Dowd: The UUP once told us that we need more than words. Changing the words does not alter the fact that there is still a selection process.

Michael Copeland, who spoke well this morning, told us about his son who was told at nine years of age that he was a failure. His son is now training to be a doctor, and I wish him success for his future. Will we tell our children at 11 or 14 that they are failures? No. We should ensure that all children — regardless of their social background — are given the same opportunities as everyone else and that we can educate our way out of poverty and social disadvantage.

Mr McElduff: Would the Member be surprised if I informed the House that, in the Subgroup on Schools Admission Policy, my proposal that the subgroup oppose the 11-plus received the following response: Sinn Féin and the SDLP supported the proposal; the DUP and UUP opposed it?

Mr O’Dowd: I thank my colleague for that piece of research; he has saved me the bother of having to look it up.

In relation to deprivation and social attainment —

Mr McNarry: Will the Member ask his colleague — who is giving out information from a closed subgroup, the minutes of which have not yet been approved and which he should not disclose, even to the Assembly — to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth of his story?

Mr McElduff: Will the Member give way?

Mr O’Dowd: Certainly.

Mr McNarry: There is a subgroup meeting at 12.30.

Madam Speaker: Order.

Mr McElduff: I will join David in the afternoon for further discussion on the matter.

Mr O’Dowd: I thank Members for those interesting contributions.

I represent a constituency that has areas of high deprivation, one of which is an estate called Ardowen. Three years ago, Ardowen had been practically demolished by hoods — a small minority came into the estate and almost destroyed it. The local people said, “Enough is enough; we have had all we can take” and they stood up to the hoods. The hoods left and the estate was rebuilt. However, the most amazing thing that came from that project was that people set up a homework club in a derelict house, for which they received small amounts of funding. That small homework club includes people from all communities: the travelling community, ethnic minorities, and the Protestant and Catholic communities.

For the first time in that area there is a possibility that children will leave secondary school to go to university. Up until now, only one person from that area graduated from university. Due to the work of the local community, other children in the area have a future.

My colleague Barry McElduff spoke about the need for civic society to be involved in educational attainment. That is a classic example of communities coming together, facing their difficulties and noting that the way out of the poverty and disadvantage that we face is through education. They did it themselves, and I congratulate them for it.

If we are to achieve anything in relation to the motion and the amendments — I have been accused of making the same speech on a different day, and I will do that again today — we need a local Minister who is accountable to the Assembly to make decisions. As Michael Copeland told us, when he was at the debate in the Senate Chamber — [Interruption.]

Is that confirmation on power sharing? Sorry, I missed that. Is that a yes to power sharing?

Mr Weir: Will you tell that to your Ard-Fheis?

Mr O’Dowd: Sorry, I thought that that was a yes to power sharing; I picked it up wrong.

Mr Weir: Are you supporting policing?

Mr O’Dowd: Was that a yes to power sharing?

Madam Speaker: Order.

Mr O’Dowd: I will check Hansard to see what the Member said.

As Michael Copeland told us, he attended a debate in the Senate Chamber between two north Belfast primary schools. It was a brilliant debate, from which both schools emerged empowered. They had decided against the wearing of school uniforms; unfortunately for them, however, debating the issue was all that they were able to do. [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Order.

Mr O’Dowd: We are similar in that we are having an excellent debate with worthwhile contributions from both sides of the House, but we cannot make decisions. I hope that Mr Dallat is right, and that we return on 26 March. When I check Hansard, I hope to find that my colleague Mr Weir said yes to power sharing; that we can ensure that we are the decision-makers on education; and that this Assembly can hold to account the former education Ministers who let down Diane Dodds and the Shankill community.

Mr McNarry: That includes yours.

Mr Kennedy: He is here.

Mr O’Dowd: I do not believe that our Minister of Education let anyone down. If an education Minister is not doing his or her job or any party is not doing its job, the electorate will deselect them.

Some Members: Oh!

Mr O’Dowd: On that note, I will end my remarks. Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle.

Question, That amendment No 1 be made, put and agreed to.

Question, That amendment No 2 be made, put and agreed to.

Main Question, as amended, put and agreed to.


That this Assembly recognises the link between social disadvantage and educational attainment and recognises the sterling work of educationalists in addressing this situation; and further calls on an incoming Executive to develop a strategic approach to raising the attainment levels for the most disadvantaged in our society, including an investigation of the reasons why this link exists, and to implement effective existing and new measures to address this problem. The Assembly also notes the recent report on ‘Improving literacy and numeracy in schools’ in Northern Ireland by the House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts; and calls on the Department of Education to fully fund and implement an effective literacy and numeracy strategy; and further calls for the setting up of Education Action Zones in areas of high educational disadvantage.

Madam Speaker: Members will know that the Business Committee has arranged to meet as usual at lunchtime today. I propose therefore, by leave of the Assembly, to suspend the sitting until 2.00 pm.

The sitting was suspended at 12.27 pm.

On resuming (Madam Speaker in the Chair) —

2.00 pm


Madam Speaker: The Business Committee has agreed to allow two hours for the debate. The Member proposing the motion has 15 minutes to speak, with 15 minutes for the winding-up speech. All other Members who wish to speak will have a maximum of 10 minutes.

Mrs Hanna: I beg to move

Bearing in mind the appalling human tragedy in Darfur, this Assembly calls on all democratic governments, especially the Irish and British Governments with which this Assembly has particular interaction, to use all their influence on the Government of Sudan to accept immediate deployment of the United Nations force in Darfur, as mandated by the United Nations Security Council.

This is the first motion dealing with matters outside Northern Ireland to be tabled in the Transitional Assembly. I will explain briefly why I have tabled it even though the Assembly has no power over matters in Northern Ireland, let alone thousands of miles away in east Africa. International development is a reserved matter, but international development and awareness-raising are functions of a devolved Assembly.

The International Development All Party Assembly Group, set up in the Assembly in late 1998, was one of the most successful of all-party groups, and it continued to meet during suspension. It has hosted many functions, such as the Make Poverty History campaign and the report of the Commission for Africa. It has held meetings with the Secretary of State for International Development, Hilary Benn; the Republic of Ireland Minister of State with special responsibility for Overseas Development and Human Rights, Conor Lenihan; and Patricia Ferguson in the Scottish Executive. The group has had several meetings with the all-party groups in Scotland and Wales. It was made clear to the group at its meetings with Mr Benn and Mr Lenihan that the door is ajar for it to become much more involved. At the meeting with Patricia Ferguson, we learned how much the Scottish Parliament is doing for international development and how much Members could achieve in that respect, if only progress could be made in restoring the Assembly.

Most Members will be aware of the response of our Lord when he was asked: “Who is my neighbour?” He told the parable of the good Samaritan, the lesson of which is that none of us can walk past on the other side of the road. Members cannot ignore what is happening in the rest of the world. The Assembly should use whatever influence it has with the British and Irish Governments, both of which — in fairness to them — have been active in relation to the crisis in Darfur.

On their own, the people of Northern Ireland were unable to solve their political problems until the issues were internationalised. At that point, not only did the Irish and British Governments became involved, but so too did the European Union and the United States. We have benefited enormously from the hundreds of millions of pounds contributed by the International Fund for Ireland, by Jacques Delors’s Special Support Programme for Peace and Reconciliation and by EU structural funds. Northern Ireland has also benefited immensely from the time, energy and commitment of people such as Senator George Mitchell and many others. They did not walk by on the other side of the road; rather, they gave us significant chunks of their lives to help us sort ourselves out.

I am grateful to Dr James Uhomoibhi of the African Development Centre in Northern Ireland for information. We know of more than 100 Sudanese families living here, many of whom have been displaced. The human fallout from what is happening in Darfur has already reached our shores.

Darfur, along with Iraq, Burma and the Democratic Republic of Congo, has some of the worst examples of starvation and mass abuse of human rights taking place in the world today. Sudan, of which Darfur is a western province, is broadly divided between the Muslim north and the Christian and animist south. The Government in Khartoum have been waging ferocious warfare for four years against rebels from black African tribes who took up arms, accusing the Khartoum Government of discrimination and oppression. That conflict has now spilled over into Darfur, and the cost of that warfare is immense.

Darfur is approximately two thirds of the size of France, with a population of around 7·5 million people, most of whom are engaged in subsistence agriculture. Between 200,000 and 300,000 people have been killed — people who, even in the best of times, were among the poorest on the earth. It can be very hard to get our heads around those numbers and imagine that they are people like us. Imagine the number of bodies that are piled up dead in that place.

Around 2·5 million people have been displaced and forced to keep continually on the move in a very harsh equatorial, arid climate. Even worse, the combatants in the conflict have been using human rights abuses and violations of the worst kind as weapons of war: systematic targeting of individuals; the deliberate destruction of homes, grain stores and water sources; abductions; mutilations; and the systematic use of rape in ethnic cleansing of the worst kind, with the aim of driving out the non-Arab ethnic groups from their villages.

I welcome the role that the UK Government have played at the United Nations in supporting the special session of the Human Rights Council on Darfur and in securing United Nations Security Council Resolution 1706, which has extended the UN mission in Sudan, mandating it to cover Darfur and calling for 22,500 UN troops and police officers to support the 7,000 members of the African Union Mission already in Sudan.

All that work done at the United Nations is right and good. The problem is that the Sudanese Government have delayed and prevaricated on the deployment of an effective UN peacekeeping force in Darfur and imposed preposterous demands, such as limiting the UN force to African participants only, not wearing the blue UN helmets, etc.

It should be accepted that the African Union force is too small to deal effectively with the situation in Darfur on its own. The only effective force would be a United Nations force. If and when that force is deployed — and I hope to God that it happens soon — its priorities must include effective human rights protection and security for those who are most at risk in the camps, towns and villages; ensuring the safe and voluntary assisted return for the very many displaced people and refugees; and the disarmament of the Janjaweed Arab militia.

The Irish Government do not have the same influence as the British Government; nonetheless they have used all their influence, particularly in the European Union. The work of Irish-based agencies such as Concern has been exceptional.

Darfur, as Members probably know, borders on Chad and the Central African Republic. One of the grave dangers of Darfur’s conflict is the destabilisation of other countries in the region. We have already seen some conflict in Ethiopia and Somalia. A second danger — hopefully less likely — is that the international community will turn a blind eye, as happened in Rwanda. I hope that that will not happen.

We in Northern Ireland have to be aware that the scale of what has happened and is happening in Darfur far exceeds anything that we can imagine. The sheer numbers of people and deaths make the situation difficult to understand.

I want to mention the humanitarian work and the courage of the Northern Ireland-based aid agencies, which I know are represented here today. Banded together they are known as the Coalition of Aid and Development Agencies (CADA). I am talking about the development and human rights agencies. I will list them alphabetically: Amnesty International, Christian Aid, Concern, Oxfam, Save the Children, the Red Cross, Trócaire and War on Want. I apologise if I have left any out.

Most of those agencies, which engage in humanitarian relief work, have been forced out of Darfur by the sheer ferocity of the conflict and, indeed, by the Government. Some of them have now returned, and I hope that we can achieve more stability so that they can all go back. They are desperately needed. Nearly three million people depend on international aid for food, shelter and medicine. All we can do is support the work of the agencies through our own financial contributions.

In conclusion, I hope that the parties in this Assembly will back the motion. The people of Northern Ireland are not lacking in compassion and sympathy for those worse off than themselves. This was evident in our response to the tsunami disaster two years ago. We are consistently among the highest contributors to charitable and international development relief work. The role played by the agencies, by faith-based missionaries and by those without any faith, over generations, is a magnificent story that has yet to be told.

We, the elected representatives of the people of Northern Ireland, can express what is best in our community by supporting this motion today. To paraphrase the poet, no community is an island. We all walk in each other’s shadows, whether it is the farmer, the worker, the businessman, the student, the child, the homemaker or the homeless. We share our common humanity with the wretched of the earth in Darfur, where completely helpless people are being destroyed by a conflict that is not of their making. Please support this motion.

Some Members: Hear, hear.

Mr Moutray: The Republic of Sudan is the largest country by area in Africa, and is bordered by nine other African nations. It has had a troubled relationship with many of its neighbours due to what is viewed as its aggressive Islamic stance.

Omar al-Bashir led a military coup in 1989, and since then has controlled the country, aligning himself with Islamists and others, including Saddam Hussein and the Taliban. Sudan has an authoritarian Government, with all effective power in the hands of Bashir. For 20 years, until 2005, he waged a civil war with Christians in the south of the country that displaced more than four million people and killed an estimated two million. A peace treaty was eventually signed in 2005, when it became clear that the south could not be overrun.

Sadly, as this conflict abated, another was brewing in the neglected western region of Darfur, where Arab Janjaweed militia have attempted to ethnically cleanse the region of its native inhabitants.

On 9 September 2004, US Secretary of State Colin Powell called the Darfur conflict “genocide”, acknowledging it as one of the worst humanitarian crises of the twenty-first century. To date, two million people have been displaced and possibly up to 400,000 killed. Despite a peace agreement, brokered by the African Union and signed in May 2006, the Sudanese Government and Government-sponsored militias have continued to launch attacks on the citizens of Darfur.

I had the privilege of visiting Sudan in 2004 as part of a delegation of politicians. We met many of the Government and opposition groups, including the Democratic Unionist Party of Sudan. Any similarity was in name only. [Laughter.]

I found Sudan to be a country rich in mineral resources. However, Sudan is ruled by an authoritarian, fundamentalist Islamic Government that is content to inflict Sharia law on the entire population to the extent of executing juveniles for non-capital crimes. As recently as last New Year’s Eve, police fired tear gas into the Anglican cathedral in Khartoum and proceeded to attack worshippers with whips and sticks and to damage cathedral property — that is indicative of the levels of tolerance and religious freedom in Sudan.

2.15 pm

A small contingent of African Union peacekeeping troops is in Darfur but is largely ineffective. A deployment of United Nations troops is needed, as advocated by the former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan. As recently as last weekend, there were reports of the Sudanese Government unleashing aerial bombing raids on refugee camps in the Darfur region. Time is of the essence. I call upon the UK Government, and all democratically elected Governments, to bring their entire combined influence to bear on the Government of Sudan to accept a deployment of United Nations troops now. I support the motion.

Dr Birnie: I welcome the debate and congratulate my colleague from South Belfast Carmel Hanna on introducing the motion.

Western Governments, and perhaps other Governments, should intervene in Sudan. The UK Government have a particular responsibility for two reasons: first, the United Kingdom is a permanent member of the UN Security Council; and, secondly, because of the UK’s significant historical links with Sudan. It must be remembered that, for much of the last century, Sudan was, in effect, a protectorate of the British Empire.

Mr Kennedy: Hear, hear. At the time of General Gordon.

Dr Birnie: That is going back even further. [Laughter.]

Mrs Hanna and Mr Moutray have outlined much of the strong moral argument for intervention. The statistics are frightening: between 200,000 and 400,000 people have died in Darfur, and over two million have been displaced from their homes. An enormous population has moved into refugee camps.

As outlined by the proposer of the motion, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), including charities such as Oxfam, Save the Children, and many others, have been doing good work in bringing humanitarian relief to those people living that extremely precarious existence. However, their work is seriously hindered by the extent of the ongoing violence in the area. It is a complex triangular conflict involving the Sudanese Government, as mentioned by Mr Moutray, the Janjaweed militia and a fragmented series of rebel groups. Some peace arrangements are in place, but they have proved patchy so far. As Mrs Hanna noted, Darfur is an enormous tract of land — almost the size of a large European country.

The continued failure to co-ordinate an adequate international intervention to support the stabilisation of Darfur and allow humanitarian efforts to proceed unhindered represents a failure to learn from history. The record of the twentieth century in that regard is dismal. The international community was silent as Turkey launched what many regard as the first genocide of modern times against the Armenian population during the First World War. In 1945, as everyone should know, the discovery of Nazi death camps produced the very understandable reaction of “never again.”

Yet by 1994, in the space of barely 100 days, 800,000 people were massacred in Rwanda, largely along tribal lines. That has already been referred to this afternoon. It is significant that a UN stabilisation force was deployed to deal with that, but, numerically, that force was tiny and was hobbled by inadequate support and equipment. Indeed, some might say that it was hobbled deliberately. Its remit, as given by the UN Security Council, was always going to be extremely limited.

The difficulties that were faced at that time have been movingly described in a book called ‘Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda’ by the Canadian General Dallaire, who was the commander of the UN peacekeeping force in Rwanda. It is worth reading that book to ponder the implications that that situation has for places such as Darfur.

We could say, as some people might when they hear about today’s motion, that the part of Sudan that we are debating is a faraway land of which we know nothing. Of course, those words should be familiar: Neville Chamberlain said the same of Czechoslovakia in 1938. We all know what that subsequently led to.

On 17 September last year, representatives of various international aid charities and some Churches in Ireland — and, indeed others — said in Belfast that adequate and timely intervention in the region is necessary. We should take note of that and remember that it was said on the designated day for Darfur.

Furthermore, we should ponder the pledge that the United Nations made on 17 September 2005. That said that the international community has a responsibility to protect people. That applies even to Governments that menace the lives and liberties of their own citizens.

The UK Government secured the passing of UN Security Council Resolution 1706, which proposed sending a UN stabilisation force of roughly 22,500 people to that part of Sudan. That resolution should be implemented as a matter of urgency because, although Members have referred to the African Union, which comprises the roughly 7,000 troops who are already in the region, those numbers are clearly not adequate to perform the task that is in hand.

In recent years, Prime Minister Blair referred to Africa as a:

“scar on the conscience of the world.”

It is time to heal that scar, and by supporting the motion we at least make a contribution to that, however small.

Ms Ruane: Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I welcome today’s motion, and I thank Carmel for tabling it. I also welcome the fact that we are debating such a serious issue.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an rún, nó is ábhar an-tábhachtach é seo.

Sinn Féin is deeply concerned about the grave situation in the Darfur region of Sudan. It is particularly concerned about the continued attacks of the Janjaweed militia against the civilian population. That militia group is supported by the Sudanese Government. Sinn Féin is also concerned about other human rights abuses and about the humanitarian crisis.

Sinn Féin supports the central role played by the African Union and the United Nations in seeking to resolve the Darfur crisis. As Esmond said, to date 7,000 African Union troops have been deployed, but, despite their best efforts, they have not been able to prevent the conflict worsening. The conflict in Sudan needs a political, not a military, solution.

The conflict began in 1955, the year before Sudan gained its independence. It has been going on for all but 11 of the 48 years that Sudan has been independent. To date, the Sudanese Government have failed to protect their people. Until the signing of the comprehensive peace agreement, the Sudanese Government and the Janjaweed — that Government’s militia — and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, spent the previous 21 years fighting a bloody war. Over two million people died, four million were displaced and over 600,000 people fled the country as refugees.

The United Nations has supported a peace process to try to ensure that there is a political solution and to protect the people of Sudan, particularly the civilian population. In August 2006, the UN Security Council passed a resolution to support the deployment of a UN peacekeeping force to protect the civilian population and to implement the peace agreement.

Sinn Féin welcomes the announcement in December that the Sudanese Government accept a UN force, although my party is concerned that they appear to be pulling back from commitments given. Given the gravity of the situation, it is essential that the international community continues to exert pressure on the Sudanese Government to disarm the Janjaweed militia immediately and create the conditions in which there can be a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

The UN programme is dynamic and includes a comprehensive human rights programme, which includes the establishment of 12 human rights institutions and a national human rights centre, monitoring the police and visiting detention centres to prevent torture and ill-treatment. It also includes specific training for the police, promotion of the rule of law and an independent judiciary.

The international community must act decisively and ensure that the humanitarian programme is facilitated and reaches the poorest, most affected people. It is essential that aid agencies are supported and their work facilitated. Along with other Members, I commend the work that Irish aid agencies have done in Sudan and urge them to continue their efforts. It is worth noting that despite its being a small country, Ireland contributed more than €16 million in support of Darfur during 2004-06.

In the 1980s, I worked for three and a half years in El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua. I saw the suffering that people endure during conflict, particularly women and children. I saw sights that I never want to see again. When I came home from central America, I worked with Trócaire and met some amazing Irish and British people who were totally committed to alleviating the suffering of people in various countries throughout the world. I want to pay tribute to people from across these islands who work abroad for peace and justice, international development, human rights and conflict resolution.

The UN has an essential role in resolving the Sudanese conflict. During the 1990s, I was proud to be part of the UN-led observer mission in South Africa when the first free and fair elections were held and Nelson Mandela was elected President. I remember feeling proud to wear the blue and white colours of the UN, knowing that on that occasion, the international community had played an important role.

I also want to pay tribute to Mary Robinson, who has done tremendous work throughout the world as President of Ireland and as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. She was so effective that some more powerful Governments did not support her continued role. I know from experience in many of those countries that she had tremendous support among the men, women and children who were suffering from conflict and whose human rights she actively supported.

One of the most important things that the Assembly can do as part of the international community is support aid agencies and create awareness of the root causes of conflict. There is no point in ending a war and not dealing with its causes and finding ways to resolve it. The international community must shine a light on the suffering people in Sudan and help create the conditions for rebuilding, rather than destruction and death, during the next 50 years.

Go gcuirtear deireadh leis an chogadh seo sula bhfaigheann níos mó daoine bás. Tá sé uafásach go bhfuil a leithéid seo ag titim amach agus sinn inár seasamh thart gan rud ar bith á dhéanamh againn.

My party supports the motion. It looks forward to when the new Assembly and all-Ireland institutions are restored and able to play their part in the international community. Go raibh maith agat.

(Mr Deputy Speaker [Mr Wells] in the Chair)

2.30 pm

Mr McCarthy: I support this important motion and commend Carmel Hanna for bringing it to the House today. Anyone who has witnessed the appalling scenes in this desperate region of the world cannot be anything but horrified at the suffering of so many people. These are human beings, God’s creatures the same as ourselves. They are inhabitants of our world, and it is important that we try to help in whatever small way we can.

In our own country we have many disagreements and arguments. However, the misery of Darfur and other places makes our squabble seem almost obscene. I pay tribute to the organisations based throughout these islands that are working flat out to make things better for those people in Darfur and in other dark areas of the world.

I know that the British and Irish Governments are working to aid this region. However, there needs to be more pressure for the deployment of a United Nations force in Darfur. What is happening there is an affront to the rest of the human race, and immediate action is required. The Alliance Party fully supports the motion.

Mr Dawson: Throughout human history there are countless cases of the unimaginable horrors that man can inflict upon his fellow man. The Holocaust, Cambodia, the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda — the list is as endless as it is horrific. The Africa Inland Mission — a missionary organisation well known to, and supported by, many people in Northern Ireland — has said that the situation in Darfur is the world’s greatest humanitarian crisis, that the situation in the region is one of genocide, and that the insecurity orchestrated by Khartoum impedes the delivery of aid. That view is supported by a House of Commons research paper which states that:

“no independent observer disputes that war crimes or crimes against humanity took place.”

I was struck by the words of the ‘New York Times’ journalist Nicholas Kristof:

“In my years as a journalist, I thought I had seen a full kaleidoscope of horrors, from babies dying of malaria to Chinese troops shooting students to Indonesian mobs beheading people. But nothing prepared me for Darfur, where systematic murder, rape, and mutilation are taking place on a vast scale, based simply on the tribe of the victim. What I saw reminded me why people say that genocide is the worst evil of which human beings are capable.”

The little that we know about death and destruction in this country is too much. However, our experiences cannot compare to the pure terror that the people of Darfur are enduring, or match the sheer scale of the situation in Sudan. The number of deaths in Darfur has been impossible to accurately estimate. The United Nations estimated in September 2006 that 400,000 people had lost their lives. In a region of six million souls, that represents 7% of the population. Translated into a Northern Ireland context, that would mean the death of nearly 120,000 people.

The horror stretches far beyond that butchery. Some two million people are believed to have been driven from their homes and forced to live as displaced persons in camps in Sudan or across the border in Chad. More than 3·5 million people are completely dependent on international assistance for their survival. The misery of millions forced to live in the squalid conditions of a refugee camp is compounded by the fact that there is no peace or security there either. Reports are rife of people being killed, raped and attacked in and around refugee camps, yet that horror is preferable to returning home, where starvation and slaughter await.

It was statistics such as those that prompted the United Nations resolution of 31 August 2006. However, it is an indictment of the United Nations, and its member states, that almost five months later, this African region has had neither the peacekeepers nor the adequate humanitarian aid that it requires. Sadly, the record of the global community in instances of genocide is poor, and Darfur is no different.

What is it about the African continent that puts it beyond the limits of the international community? We have witnessed the troubles in Rwanda, Zimbabwe and now the Sudan, and the international community has signally failed the peoples of those regions by failing to act for their protection.

Why are the people of that continent — and their rights — of less importance than the people of Kosovo, Afghanistan or Iraq? The international community has had no difficulty taking action, up to and including military action, in those areas, but in Africa, and in the Sudan in particular, no effective action has been taken.

This is in spite of the UN’s own legal construct — namely its “responsibility to protect”. This responsibility was described in the resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly in September 2005, which indicated that states are:

“prepared to take collective action, in a timely and decisive manner, through the Security Council, in accordance with the Charter, including Chapter VII, on a case-by-case basis and in cooperation with relevant regional organizations as appropriate, should peaceful means be inadequate and national authorities are manifestly failing to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity….and its implications, bearing in mind the principles of the Charter and international law.”

I realise that there are nearly as many caveats in that statement as in the recent Ard-Fheis motion published by Sinn Féin, albeit that the UN statement is shorter. However, if ever there was a case for international collective action, Darfur is it.

The situation in Darfur is all the more hopeless given that, thanks to its oil reserves, Sudan is potentially one of Africa’s richest countries. That it continues to have some of the worst development indicators is a disgrace. However, we need to take note that the Joint Assessment Mission for the Sudan has warned that:

“Unless the absorptive capacity of the GoSS to handle reserves is quickly increased, and unless accountable and transparent governance is developed, oil revenues could — as happened in Angola and other post-conflict states — result in corruption and the entrenchment of unaccountable elites.”

Currently, much of the oil is traded with China. Some see that as one of the reasons why the UN has been unwilling to act. If that is the case, it is a further indictment of the international community’s inability to take action.

It seems that while Africa is incapable of being helped, China is incapable of being touched: it can continue with human rights abuses, destruction of the environment and the obstruction of an end to genocide while the international community simply stands idly by. In Sudan, China takes the oil and pays lip service to UN involvement, but it stands by the Sudanese Government in resisting the UN peacekeeping force.

In Darfur, the failure to implement properly the will of the world community is undermining the excellent humanitarian effort, to which Members have referred. Humanitarian organisations have been constructing shelters, building and restoring schools, constructing clinics and hospitals and providing people with life’s essentials, and that work is in constant jeopardy. Those relief efforts will undoubtedly collapse if security cannot be established. As the Africa Inland Mission reminded us, the Government in Khartoum is impeding that work.

In conclusion, although I am always reluctant to encourage foreign states to involve themselves in the affairs other states, the world cannot simply turn a blind eye to the plight of the people in Darfur. Immediate international action is required. The deployment of the UN peacekeeping force, the support of the African Union’s troops in the meantime and the enforcement of a no-fly zone can, and will, improve security.

The pursuit of a diplomatic solution to the conflict must step up a gear, and the international community must back up its security commitment with aid that can help the people of the Darfur region to build some semblance of a normal life.

I support the motion.

Ms Gildernew: Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I welcome this motion and hope that it receives unanimous support from the parties in this House.

For a number of years, Sinn Féin has called for the Dublin and British Governments to use whatever influence they have in whatever forums they participate, whether that be the United Nations or the European Parliament, to help bring to an end the tragedy that is Darfur.

In 2005 and 2006, the Sinn Féin Ard-Fheiseanna passed motions that called on the Sudanese Government and all other combatants to comply with the Humanitarian Cease Fire Agreement on the Conflict in Darfur of 8 April 2004. Sinn Féin TDs signed an all-party motion in Leinster House that called for the support for peacekeeping and humanitarian efforts in the region, and Sinn Féin MEPs, Bairbre de Brún and Mary Lou McDonald, co-sponsored a similar motion in the European Parliament. It goes without saying that Sinn Féin will wholeheartedly support the motion before the House today.

I repeat that call for the Sudanese Government to honour their promises to facilitate the access of humanitarian relief organisations to the affected populations; to support the work of the African Union to provide security to internally displaced peoples; and to allow ceasefire monitors.

In addition, the international community must continue to provide humanitarian assistance to the region and support demands for the establishment of a pan-African criminal and human rights commission. The purpose of that commission would be to investigate and prosecute the forces, Government-supported militias and officials that were responsible for the Darfur massacre.

I call for the Dublin and London Governments and all Governments worldwide to act decisively to support the people of that region. There must be an end to the genocide, and the Sudanese Government must not be allowed to prevent humanitarian efforts to assist the people of the region.

The conflict between Government forces, pro-Government militias and rebels in the Darfur region of Sudan has led to more than 200,000 casualties and over two million internally displaced persons and refugees, despite the Darfur Peace Agreement of 5 May 2006.

The huge political and media interest in the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan has overshadowed the ongoing humanitarian tragedy in Darfur. Attacks on humanitarian workers have meant that in many areas their work has ground to a halt, ensuring that the civilian population continues to suffer. It is imperative that all Governments impress on the Sudanese Government that they must accommodate and not hinder peacekeeping and humanitarian efforts in the region.

Every effort must be made to ensure that Sudan does not slip back into full-scale conflict. I wish to commend the work that has taken place in an attempt to bring an end to this conflict, and I particularly commend the efforts of the African Union. It is essential that that work continues and is built upon and bolstered by the United Nations.

The international community must focus on assisting a political resolution to the conflict. As with our own conflict, that is crucial if a sustainable peace is to be built, and every effort should be made to realise the power-sharing provisions of the Darfur Peace Agreement in a meaningful way.

The United Nations Security Council Report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict in the Sudan, covering May to July 2006, details incidents of human rights abuses against children. It focuses on:

“the killing and maiming of children, their recruitment and use as soldiers, grave sexual violence, abductions and denial of humanitarian access to children, and indicates that these violations continue in the Sudan largely unabated.”

The international community must make every appropriate effort to protect all vulnerable children in areas of conflict such as this and bring an end to these serious abuses. It should also use every opportunity to remind the Sudanese Government of their responsibility to protect their citizens from violence and to guarantee respect for human rights.

In recognition of that responsibility, members of the international community should support UN Security Council resolution 1706 (2006) of 31 August 2006 and its implementation; support the deployment of a United Nations peacekeeping force to ensure the protection of the civilian population; and support the implementation of the Darfur Peace Agreement.

I encourage those Governments that have influence over the Sudanese regime to persuade it to meet its humanitarian obligations and to respond to the wishes of the international community by committing itself to taking all appropriate measures to advance the Darfur Peace Agreement. The violation of children, women and other people in Sudan must stop. Go raibh míle maith agat.

2.45 pm

Dr Farren: Almost 60 years ago, just three years after the most genocidal conflict in human history, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide by declaring genocide to be a crime under international law that the civilised world must seek to prevent.

Today’s motion directs Members’ attention to an instance of ongoing genocide of tragic proportions. As other Members have said, it is good for us to raise our horizons above our own sordid squabble from time to time, and to direct our attention to the tragedies that are happening in places such as Darfur and other parts of Africa, where the scale of human suffering is way beyond anything that has been experienced here.

Members know that the Darfur region of Sudan is but one example of where that has been most evident. Tragically, there is a long list of instances, particularly in Africa, in which similar atrocities have recently occurred. In countries such as the Congo, Rwanda, Angola, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Somalia, the plight of ordinary people has been ignored by those who are determined to dominate politically and to exploit and plunder their natural resources.

The Darfur region of Sudan has been embroiled in a deadly conflict that has been at its most intense over the last few years, but it has stretched back over several decades. The stated political aim of the rebels is to compel the Sudanese Government to address the underdevelopment and political marginalisation of their region and to allow it to share in the considerable wealth that the country is capable of generating. In response, the Sudanese Government, through its regular armed forces and, as mentioned by several Members, the Janjaweed, have targeted civilian populations and ethnic groups from which the rebels principally draw their support.

Article 3 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights — itself almost 60 years old — promises that:

“Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.”

However, hundreds of thousands of civilians have been murdered, and more than 2·5 million people have been displaced into unprotected camps throughout Sudan and into neighbouring Chad. Article 5 of the declaration also states that:

“No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment”.

However, hundreds of women are raped or sexually assaulted every week with no force to protect them. Not since the Rwandan genocide of 1994 has the world seen such a calculated campaign of displacement, starvation, rape and mass slaughter.

The international community has recognised those atrocities as genocide. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has described the situation in Sudan and Chad as:

“the largest and most complex humanitarian problem on the globe.”

The Darfur Peace Agreement, which was brokered in May 2006 between the Government of Sudan and one faction of Darfur rebels, has not been implemented. Deadlines have been ignored, and violence has escalated. Infighting between rebel groups and factions has dramatically increased, adding a new layer of complexity to the conflict.

As other Members have said, the violence has made it dangerous, if not impossible, for most of the millions of displaced people to return to their homes. Humanitarian aid agencies face growing obstacles to their attempts to bring widespread relief to the region. In August 2006, the United Nations’ top humanitarian official described the situation in Darfur as “catastrophic”. As a consequence, some of the aid agencies have been compelled to withdraw, from parts of the region at least. Only the most courageous remain.

More than two years ago, the UN Security Council adopted resolution 1556, which demanded that the Government of Sudan disarm the Janjaweed. The same demand is also an important part of the 2006 Darfur Peace Agreement. In August 2006, the UN Security Council took the further step, as others have said, of authorising a strong UN peacekeeping force for Darfur. Despite those actions, the Janjaweed is still active and free to commit the same genocidal crimes against civilians in Darfur, aided by — indeed, complicit with — the Sudanese Government.

International experts agree that the UN Security Council must deploy a peacekeeping force with a mandate to protect civilians immediately. Until it arrives, however, the underfunded and almost overwhelmed African Union Mission in Sudan must be bolstered. At present, it is almost incapable of offering any real and sustained forms of protection. Governments and international institutions must provide and ensure access to sufficient humanitarian aid for all those in need.

Despite the grand talk and all the calls for it, we are still seeing insufficient action. That lack of international action has allowed the Sudanese Government to continue with what USAID and the United Nations have called “ethnic cleaning” in the region. It is obvious that the Sudanese Government have no intention of stopping their indiscriminate massacre of the Darfuri people.

Although the UN regards the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide as major statements of principles to which its member states claim to be committed, those principles ring hollow and offer no consolation to the people of Darfur if they remain only on paper and are ignored by the world’s major powers.

We have very little influence; we have no direct responsibility. We should, however, try to ensure that the British and Irish Governments at least heed what is being said here. We call on them, particularly through the European Union, to put economic pressure on the Sudanese by placing travel restrictions on individuals who are strongly suspected of involvement in genocide in Darfur. Revenue flows from the petroleum sector in Sudan should be specifically targeted, and a proportion of them redirected to provide relief in the Darfur region.

Furthermore, the International Criminal Court (ICC) should pursue and extend its present investigations into crimes against humanity that have already been committed, and should threaten that robust action will be taken against anyone who commits atrocity crimes in future, in order to maintain legal pressure on the Khartoum regime. On the military front, the UN Security Council should back demands that the Sudanese Government cease offensive military flights over Darfur, with the immediate establishment of a no-fly zone to deter aerial attacks on civilians.

It is time to champion the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, not by words, but, insofar as we can, by actions. We are compelled by the conscience of the world at least to highlight this humanitarian disaster and so help restore dignity and hope to the suffering people of Darfur. If we do not, we betray our commitment to human rights and risk compromising the very nature of our own conscience.

Mr Shannon: A wean bes tould tae gae tae the pump fer watter, Eh cairts es tin can an’ danners wi’ es sister. They heir a noise an’ gleekin far aff, sicht a bhoy oan a horse. The laddie leuks aa es sister an’ gulders aa hir tae rin awa an’ leuks oan, no fit tae gie hir onie hefts, es the bhoy wi’ the mask taks ap es sister, the laddie bes threw tae the grun an’ lies i the clabber guyhles es greetin sister bes cairted awa’. An’ sae bes set i es hairt the furst seeds o’hatred, at wul flooer es eh graws, at neir aits him es eh heids hame tae es mither empy handit – wi’oot watter an’ wi’oot es sister, an sae the cycle o’hatin’ gaes oani this kintra wracked bae waar. The UN hes allooed hoo the waar i Sudan bes the “Worst Humanitarian hannlin i the worl”

A child is sent to the pump for water. He carries his tin can, as he walks with his sister. They hear a noise, and, looking into the distance, they see a man on a horse. The boy turns to his sister and shouts for her to run. He watches helplessly as the man with a mask lifts his sister. The boy is knocked to the ground and lies in the dirt while his sobbing sister is carried away. Planted in his heart, the first seeds of hatred, which will blossom as he grows, threaten to consume him as he returns to his mother empty-handed, without the water and without his sister, and so the cycle of hatred continues in this war-torn country.

The UN has said that the war in Sudan is the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. Darfur is a region the size of France and has seen, since 2003, the deaths of more than 200,000 people and the displacement of four million refugees to other regions and other countries such as Chad and the Central African Republic, which cannot take the strain or the attacks from the Sudanese Government-assisted arm of terrorism — the Janjaweed — who are now beyond the control of that Government.

Sudan is in real danger of exploding and destroying bordering nations, as refugees flood into countries that have neither the resources nor structure to support them. They flee up to 300 miles on foot. They walk and run while dragging their children along with them. They have no food and only whatever water they can scoop up as they go along, while all the time they are in fear of soldiers from both sides of the divide. They arrive at the refugee camps exhausted and ill to the point of death, only to find that there is not enough food, water or medicine.

In the past week alone, it has been reported that there have been 200 deaths in Darfur; however, anyone who knows the reality of the situation there will be aware that the figure is probably closer to 1,000. For every one skirmish reported, another five take place. That cannot continue. As the nation focuses on the glaringly obvious catastrophe in Darfur, it must also be remembered that the rest of Sudan is in crisis. There is little food and a shortage of medical supplies. The only education that children receive comes from what they see around them: their mothers and sisters taken and raped; their food and clothing stolen; and the rampant spread of disease. What kind of graduates does such an education produce? It produces graduates filled with hatred, anger and resentment. It produces a new and even more embittered generation of men and women who understand only violence and degradation, who know no other way, who have no hope, and who feel little other than rage and anguish. That is the future of Sudan — north, south, east and west — if something drastic is not done to end what has been referred to as genocide.

A former Sudanese slave, abducted as a child, spoke recently at a rally outside the United Nations headquarters in New York. She said:

“Immediate action must be taken to end the genocide in Darfur. The international community cannot allow another Rwanda to take place.”

3.00 pm

Members have spoken of other countries where similar problems have arisen, such as Uganda and Rwanda. This is as relevant to us in the Province and in the UK as a whole as it was to the Americans at that rally. There is a duty upon the right-thinking people of the strong nations to ensure that no people is made extinct and that no children are made to see, much less suffer, the atrocities that are rife in Africa.

We should have learned that standing by, wringing our hands and tutting, will not induce dictators and evil men to repent. We must take a stand for those who have no voices, speak out for the rights of the oppressed, seek truth and justice, defend the poor and needy, lift up the weak and do what is right. Sudan is full of needy people, not just in Darfur but in the poverty-stricken south, which is in desperate need of structure and stability, and grossly affected by the crippling events in Darfur.

There has been a peace accord since 2005 uniting the north and south of Sudan. This made provisions in which the rich north made commitments to share the oil profits and bring the south out of poverty and disease, but the leadership has since continued to ignore the needs of the south. The UN has a responsibility to enforce the commitments made.

The crisis in Darfur has distracted attention from the fact that the whole of Sudan is suffering. Christians in the south are being persecuted by Muslims, their churches burnt and their clergy arrested. No infrastructure has been created, and the people are continuing to die of starvation and disease, exacerbated by the problem of refugees from the west and escapees from war-torn Darfur.

The African Union has deployed 7,000 soldiers in an attempt to curb the process, but it has sent them out in smatterings of 100 here and 100 there, with the result that they can make no impact whatsoever on what is happening in this huge region. The rebels remain determined to fight against the Government, and the Government seem powerless to dissuade their terrorist army from rape and pillage. That further inflames anger until there can be no hope of the nation repairing itself. There can be no hope of the southern province having a more secure future or a chance of regeneration as long as this level of conflict is maintained. The monster has gone far beyond the control of those who created it.

An estimated one million people in Darfur have no access to clean, disease-free water, food, medication and education. A further one million have only limited access, and that number will continue to grow as more and more aid agencies are forced to withdraw from the area. Concern has recently announced that it has been forced to pull out its aid workers due to uncertainty over their future, and other organisations have also been removing their workers. That means that less food, medication and clothing is getting in than ever before. There is also no one to distribute it. Conflict between rioting factions arises over control of the food, and no one is there to ensure that those in need receive help. The strong use their weapons to take from the weak what was sent especially for them. That cannot continue; aid must be allowed in, and the UN must be allowed to step up and fulfil its obligations to these needy people.

The UN has stated its wish to send approximately 20,000 peacekeepers into Sudan, but the Government of Sudan have refused. The British and Irish Governments cannot and must not accept this. The Assembly too has a responsibility to do all in its power to ensure that this is not just taken lying down. We must push to do the right thing and send in the peacekeepers to ensure that vital aid is delivered to the critical areas to begin the process of rebuilding the nation and to enforce the commitments of the 2005 peace accord.

The southern and western parts of Darfur are entitled to the food, medication and education that have been promised to them. For far too long they have lived with the stench of death in every corner. The time has come for the UN to proactively ensure that the people of Darfur — and Sudan as a whole — have that little bit of security that the force can bring.

The time of waiting to see whether the Government in Khartoum will fulfil their obligations is long past. We have seen how they turned a blind eye and gave backhanders to a terrorist organisation as it carried out countless atrocities. We understand that the terrorists are now a complete law unto themselves, doing whatever they please and accountable to no one — especially not those in Government who once supported them. Now is the time for the UN to do what it was formed to do; to step up to the mark and stand firm against evil men, no matter what form they take.

As an Assembly, it is our duty to do so, and we cannot, and must not, shirk that responsibility. The lessons of the past must be learnt well. We must ensure that the 70% of the people of Sudan who do not have the medication that they need receive it; that the children receive the education that they need to rebuild the country; that the whole of Sudan benefits from its rich oil reserves; that focus is placed on the nation as a whole; and that the full horrors of Rwanda, and other genocides, do not occur in Sudan.

I support the motion, but we must keep in mind the valid saying:

“Evil triumphs when good men do nothing”.

The Assembly must do something and ensure that something is done.

Ms Ritchie: We have heard much about the genocide, horror and human rights abuses that continue to be perpetrated against the people of Sudan. Continued urgent action is required by the British and Irish Governments to ensure immediate international political action through the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the European Union and the United Nations. They must address the ongoing conflict, death and destruction in Darfur and the crises caused through the displacement of families, creating extreme poverty, denying people access to scarce water supplies, and continuing famine and malnutrition.

More than 200,000 people have died, and over two million people have been forced to flee their homes and are living in makeshift shelters in crowded camps or massed on the edges of towns and villages in Darfur and eastern Chad.

The current crisis started in 2003, when ethnic African rebels took up arms against the central Khartoum Government, charging them with neglect. In Sudan, the Government have been accused of unleashing the Janjaweed paramilitary group of Arab nomads, which has been blamed for the worst atrocities in the conflict. Several other tribal militias also plague this vast arid region of Sudan, where scarce resources regularly pit nomadic tribes against sedentary ones. Many more people have been affected by the conflict and are now extremely dependent on humanitarian assistance, as traditional means of livelihoods have been destroyed by the war, which has been raging for over four years.

Only last week, the crisis deepened when more than 200 people died in clashes between ethnic African farmers and nomadic Arabs in southern Darfur. That led the Sudanese Government to send emissaries to try to reconcile the tribes involved.

Survival remains difficult and dangerous for the displaced people of Darfur. The same Government that funded, supported and participated with the Janjaweed militias to drive the displaced people out of their villages and lands now refuse to allow the transition from the current African Union Mission in Sudan peacekeeping force to a larger and better equipped United Nations peacekeeping mission in Darfur, which has been mandated by the United Nations Security Council to protect civilians. The very Government whose obligation should be to protect their people are denying them protection.

Since 2004, after several African Union Mission in Sudan-brokered agreements, the Government in Sudan have failed to take effective steps to disarm the Janjaweed. Worse still, the Janjaweed militias are not only being incorporated into paramilitary organisations, such as the Sudanese Popular Defence Forces and the Border Intelligence Guard, but it is alleged that they are being brought into the regular army. Instead of being disarmed, they are being rearmed. Some observers, such as the victims of the attacks in Jebel Moon, have described those who attacked them as being armed with brand new weapons and wearing new Sudanese army uniforms. It has been suggested that the African Union forces now face mistrust on the part of the internally displaced people of Darfur.

What can the international community do to assist the beleaguered people of Darfur? First, all Members of the Transitional Assembly should unite to condemn attacks that various parties to the conflict have perpetrated against the civilian population, the personnel of the African Union Mission in the Sudan, and humanitarian agencies.

Secondly, we must urge those parties to the conflict that have not done so to sign the Darfur Peace Agreement and cease the armed conflict. Thirdly, we must press the Government of the Republic of Sudan to implement without further delay the terms agreed to in Addis Ababa on 16 November 2006 for the deployment of a joint United Nations and African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur.

We commend the African Union Mission in Sudan for its work in the Darfur region and recommend that it continue with its efforts to resolve the conflict. We urge the Government of Sudan to acknowledge the report of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights 2004 fact-finding mission to Darfur and submit its response to the commission.

If Members believe in challenging human-rights abuses in Ireland and Britain, in upholding the principles of equality and social justice, and in upholding the rights of those who are oppressed, marginalised, attacked or assaulted in our own country, we must urge the international community and the British and Irish Governments to ensure that action is taken in Darfur to protect those who are being maimed, pilloried, raped and displaced daily in Sudan.

Without a Government to protect them, the displaced people of Darfur must look to regional and international organisations to help them. The Irish and British Governments, the American Administration and the European Union must not be found wanting. The African Union and the United Nations must help. At its thirty-eighth ordinary session, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights adopted a very important resolution that called on the Government of Sudan to comply with their obligations under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. I am conscious that the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dermot Ahern, said last year that Ireland would continue to do all that it could at an international level to bring the violations to an end. The United Kingdom Government are committed to the Darfur Peace Agreement and maintain that Sudan should accept a UN peacekeeping force.

I suggest that the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights should continue to exert its authority by urging the Government of Sudan to ensure the effective protection of civilians in Darfur and to consent to the deployment of a UN peacekeeping mission. That is now required, and both the British and Irish Governments must continue to press for that.

My colleague Carmel Hanna referred to meetings that my party has had with the Scottish Executive, the Irish Government and with the Secretary of State for International Development, Hilary Benn. When restoration of the Assembly is achieved, we must ensure that we can use some of the money that is given to us to assist projects in Africa, particularly those in Sudan. We must be able to demonstrate practical and pragmatic assistance to those people, albeit in a small way. That would be our commitment.

I commend the work of the non-governmental organisations and Third World agencies on the island of Ireland for their work in Africa, particularly in Sudan. It has been an uphill struggle for those organisations, but they have shone a beacon of light on the displacement and abuses that have been perpetrated against the ordinary people.

3.15 pm

Mr Donaldson: I commend the Member for South Belfast Carmel Hanna for tabling the motion. As a Transitional Assembly, it is important that we give thought to the issues that confront Northern Ireland, which will be priorities for Members and any incoming Executive. Nonetheless, it is good that we take time out from that to consider the needs of people in other parts of the world, where clearly there is suffering. The level of their deprivation as a result of conflict is so much greater and more pressing than our needs in Northern Ireland.

It is a human tragedy, and I will not repeat the many incidents and atrocities that have already been catalogued by other Members during the debate. In another place, I am a member of the executive of the all-party group on Africa. We have considered conflict situations in Africa, the impacts that they have on the economies of countries and the manner in which they undermine democracy. In Sudan, we have also seen how tribal and regional interests deteriorate into very dangerous conflict situations, with tragic loss of life.

I recently read a book about the siege of Khartoum. It was interesting to reflect that even then, when the Sudanese appeared to be united in some respects against the colonial forces, there were tribal and regional tensions, and that is evident today. In Africa, it is so often the case that although democratic countries have emerged from the colonial past, those democracies are fragile. They are coalitions of various tribal and political interests that in ordinary situations would be resolvable by dialogue. Sadly, they deteriorate into violence and conflict, possibly for historical, tribal reasons.

So it is with the tragic situation in Darfur, which we have heard so much about this afternoon. At times — I am sure that many Members feel likewise — I am left wondering why it is that in such conflict situations, the international community at times seems to be powerless to do anything to prevent them. When such situations do occur, it is powerless to prevent their escalation. Tragically, we have seen that in Rwanda and in other parts of Africa, and the situation in Darfur has again highlighted the inadequacies of the international community and the deficiencies of the international institutions to cope with conflict situations. We should be in the business of conflict prevention and not just conflict resolution. As part of an international community, we should also try to identify where there is potential for conflict and do what we can to resolve problems before any situation deteriorates into the sad state that we see today in Sudan.

We must re-examine those international institutions that have been tested, time after time, in eastern Europe, the Balkans, Kosovo and Rwanda, and have been found seriously wanting. Some argue that there are limits within which the international community must work and that there is a limit to how much involvement it can have. However, we need to re-examine those institutions and find out where there is a need to create or enhance conflict-prevention mechanisms, which ought to be designed to identify regional and international conflicts, or the potential for them. Systems, procedures and resources must be available to help those regions and countries to try to overcome their difficulties without having to resort to conflict.

The debate should not only be concerned with what we should do in Darfur to try to resolve a situation that has got out of hand and become a human tragedy but with the lessons that we should have learnt after Rwanda and Kosovo. In reality, however, we have not learnt that much at all about conflict prevention.

In the years ahead, we, as an Assembly, would do well to consider what contribution we can make. As a region, our influence is limited, but we have had our own conflict. Slowly but surely, we are creating the institutions that we hope will not only lead us beyond the transition from that conflict, but will help to prevent conflict in the future. If that is the case, and those mechanisms prove to be successful, we surely have a duty to share our experiences with other parts of the world in promoting conflict prevention as well as resolution.

Northern Ireland has its part to play, as does this Assembly. In due course, I would like an all-party Assembly group to be formed to consider these issues. There is no doubt that there is consensus in the Chamber on this issue, and the hon Member for South Belfast Mrs Hanna should know that this side of the House would be happy to co-operate in forming an all-party group that could examine such issues and consider how our experiences might be shared with other regions in potential conflict situations.

I hope that the Darfur Peace Agreement will result in a peaceful outcome, but I suspect that there is some way to go before the problems are resolved. We have heard of instances of the agreement being breached and how factions are still engaged in dreadful acts of violence and atrocities against men, women and children. In time, I hope that those atrocities will be documented. If war crimes have been committed, I hope that those responsible will be brought before the international courts and dealt with in the proper way that helps to resolve conflict, not to exacerbate or repeat it. That is not retribution; it is about establishing the mechanisms and agreements that will prevent the conflict in Darfur from resuming.

I hope that the lessons learnt from Sudan can be replicated in other areas. There is a need for stronger international institutions — not to interfere, necessarily, but to offer, help, guidance and support in resolving and preventing conflict.

This debate is a valuable opportunity for us to show that, in tune with the spirit of the people of Northern Ireland, we have an interest in what happens in other parts of the world. The generosity of our people never ceases to amaze me when it comes to giving money, resources and time to help those in need. Many Members have mentioned the humanitarian aid agencies from this island and within these islands, especially those in Northern Ireland, which have made a major contribution in conflict situations to bring aid and humanitarian care to those in need.

We in the political realm ought to follow that spirit and example and consider what we can do to make a contribution in the international community towards conflict prevention in the future. That would be the best legacy that we could offer to the embattled and beleaguered people of Darfur.

Mr Dallat: I am honoured to take part in this debate. It is more important than we realise. I hope that the people of Darfur, and their families in Northern Ireland, will know that it is taking place. Given the speed at which the modern media send messages across the world, I believe that those people will know.

On a lighter note, I remember that 10 minutes after the little incident that is known as the “brawl in the Hall” — in which I had no part— I received a text message that read:

“Saw you on TV in Cambodia.”

Therefore, people will find out about the debate.

Mr Kennedy: What were you doing in Cambodia? [Laughter.]

Mr Dallat: I hope one day to go there. It is a beautiful country that has been through terrible conflict. However, it is now one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world.

I take the opportunity to thank the International Development All Party Assembly Group, which was the only Assembly group to meet during suspension. I pay tribute to Carmel Hanna, not because she is a party colleague, but because she rose above party politics and co-operated on that group with other political parties. I pay the same tribute to the Speaker, Eileen Bell, who was a tremendous support and who was most helpful in trying to keep it functioning. Indeed, she was also a member of the group.

Mrs Hanna: The Deputy Speaker was also a member.

Mr Dallat: I am told that the Deputy Speaker was also a member. That is the last that prompt I am taking. [Laughter.]

One of the most important things to come out of today’s debate is not simply the call for action on Darfur but the need to plan ahead for a new Assembly and to ensure, as Jeffrey Donaldson suggested, that a properly resourced international development group is established. That group must be allowed to project the high level of humanity that exists on these islands.

Other parts of the world suffer as a result of conflict. Every day I receive messages from Zimbabwe, which was mentioned earlier. I hope that the people who are responsible for atrocities there are made answerable for their war crimes.

My own experience of Africa is centred on Malawi. As Members of the previous Assembly, David McClarty of the Ulster Unionist Party and I had the opportunity to go to Malawi and sign an agreement in the former capital of that country, Zomba. Arising out of that visit, the University of Ulster, the University of Malawi, local fire brigades, schools, churches and farming groups came together to identify projects and parallel committees in their respective parts of the world. I tell that story to encourage others to promote similar activities.

My wife spent six weeks last year in Blantyre in Malawi working as a classroom assistant, and her experience shows that all that work was beneficial. The local schoolchildren had no pens, no desks, no chairs and no running water: they had nothing but a desire to be educated. They benefited from that arrangement. I am sure that a future Assembly would encourage Northern Ireland’s local councils and other organisations to establish a similar arrangement. That was a model for perfection, and I hope that it is emulated.

Next week Members will have the honour of inviting the Chief Executive of the Zomba Municipal Assembly to this House. That shows that Members should not underestimate the influence that they have in other parts of the world.

Once again I pay tribute to those who, in difficult times, have managed to retain an international dimension. Referring to Jeffrey Donaldson’s speech once more, while in Malawi I was asked: “What’s in this for you?” That was one of the hardest questions that I have ever been asked. I had to think carefully about it, but Jeffrey Donaldson has perhaps provided an answer: Northern Ireland has had its conflicts and its own problems in the past, but we can learn from other parts of the world, for example, about their respect for the environment and the way in which they go about treating scarce resources — we can learn a lot from that.

3.30 pm

We must not forget our young people. Linkages of the kind I have already mentioned create opportunities for our young people to engage with the wider world. Increasingly, many of them go to Africa, and other developing countries, to build hospitals and schools, and to work on other community projects. It allows people to get beyond the old mite box, where one simply gave the money and forgot about it. The world is now a smaller place. We cannot escape what is happening in Darfur, Zimbabwe, Malawi and the other countries, and we can play a very useful role. Hopefully, after today, we will have laid the foundation stone, not only for acknowledging the inhumanity that exists in Sudan, but also for making firm resolutions for a future Assembly and ensuring that, as in the past, it does everything humanly possible to narrow the division between the haves and the have-nots.

This morning we spoke about the correlation between social deprivation and education here at home. The same principles apply in every other part of the world. I know from experience that in Malawi and Zomba, in particular, where schools have been supported financially to buy textbooks, school equipment and to bore holes for water, children have the tools to allow them to go on to further education, to begin to address the problems for themselves and to share their experiences with us. I cannot think of a more honourable role in life than to be engaged in that. Once again I congratulate Carmel Hanna, who kept this subject alive through thick and thin.

Mr A Maginness: There is not very much more that can be said in this debate. I am reminded of the words of Einstein, who said:

“A sure sign of madness was doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”

That has been the history of mankind. We have resorted to war, violence, tribalism and sectarianism over and over again, and we have looked for a different result. However, we are simply mad to expect a different result. Violence and sectarian division — whether here or in Africa — will end up in tragedy. We have heard a lot about the tragedies of Darfur and Sudan, which have impeded the growth of that great country for many decades.

This debate has shed a lot of light on the situation. It has been tremendously well informed, and Members who have listened to the debate have learned a lot. The contributions from all sides of the House have been outstanding, and all parties have created a consensus to try to do something to assist the people of Darfur in their plight.

I congratulate my colleague Carmel Hanna for moving the motion, as have colleagues in different parties. She has done a tremendous service to the House, and reminded Members of the International Development All-Party Assembly Group, which has remained intact despite suspension. As Jeffrey Donaldson said, whenever we get back to a full working Assembly, that group must be encouraged to reform and make a contribution to the work of the House.

Through local government and the Administration that we will establish, we can make a contribution to all parts of the developing world, as John Dallat has pointed out. This is particularly relevant to areas such as Darfur and its regions, because they need practical assistance. We can give that because we have good people, in all different walks of life, who are interested in assisting the people in the developing world. We have expertise in the Water Service, housing, education and medical services, and we can make contributions on such matters to certain parts of the developing world. We can contribute in this way to Darfur. We can help to rebuild the infrastructure in that part of Sudan. Just handing over money is not good enough.

Many people throughout the world have been very generous towards us here in Northern Ireland. The European Union, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the United States have all been generous to us. We should repay their generosity.

A genuine consensus of concern for the developing world, and Darfur in particular, is evident today right across the House. There is a generosity of spirit, which is renowned amongst Irish people, whether they come from the North or the South. That spirit can be seen in the missionary work that Irish people have embarked upon throughout the world for many decades, for example. That missionary work, not just confined to evangelising, brought about great benefits in education, medical and other services, which uplifted people. The contribution was not simply about religion or proselytization. It tried to contribute something to many different parts of the world and in particular to Africa.

As George Dawson has said, why is it that the world has failed Africa? I cannot give an answer to that, but he is right to highlight that failure. We have not mentioned the Congo today, which witnessed the loss of four million people in a short period of time. The complexity of the problem there makes it potentially a worse situation than that in Darfur, although some progress has been made in restoring some form of normality to that particular country.

We do owe our help to the people of Africa, because it is our duty as citizens of the world, and as Christians, to assist those in need. We cannot walk on the other side of the road. We must help our brothers and sisters throughout the world, as Carmel Hanna has said.

Caitríona Ruane pointed out the importance of the United Nations and how important it is that we support its work. We must support the creation of a stable and secure region in Sudan, where people can live in peace. Military and security must be established in that region. It is also important, and I must emphasise this, to remember that the International Commission of Enquiry pointed out in 2005 that there were many violations of human rights and humanitarian law in this conflict. Indeed, the General Secretary of the United Nations has a select list of suspects who could well be charged with crimes against humanity, perhaps even genocide. That select list has been given to the International Criminal Court. This is an important process.

If worldwide legal and humanitarian standards are to be established, those who have committed crimes against humanity or against the laws of war — particularly those responsible for genocide — must be pursued. As Carmel Hanna said, turning a blind eye to genocide, or to any crimes against humanity, would be a disservice to humanity. Such crimes cannot be tolerated. Therefore if, as I hope, prosecutions are brought in the International Criminal Court, that process must be supported. There must be no horse-trading between the United Nations and the Sudanese Government or anyone else involved in such crimes. The UN must not go easy on offenders or withdraw charges that it has brought before the International Criminal Court.

Any political solution must include the prosecution of those who have committed the foulest of offences — and some horrible offences have been committed. Seán Farren mentioned the systematic rape of women in Darfur. That is an act of mass terrorism. It is not simply incidental to a battle or the aftermath of a battle: it is a deliberate policy of terrorism that cannot be tolerated. Therefore it is important that where there is sufficient evidence against individuals, prosecutions are brought.

The International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur discovered violations of law not only by the regular Sudanese army but also by Arab militias associated with the central Government, the army and the rebel forces. No group that is part of the highly complex conflict in Darfur is innocent of crimes against humanity; therefore it is important to take a balanced approach. Everyone supports a political settlement in Darfur and will work to bring that about. However, justice for those who have been so victimised by the conflict must not be jettisoned. It is important that that message come from the House. Parties must play their part in trying to bring about a resolution to the problems in Darfur.

As Jim Shannon said, the situation in Darfur is the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today. If so, Members have a solemn duty to try, in our own small way, to assist. We will not change the situation overnight. However, if we, as part of the political process, albeit a small part, make some small contribution, we can achieve a good result. I agree with Jim Shannon that evil triumphs when good men do nothing.

As good men, we must not do nothing; we must work to achieve a just and proper settlement to the problem in Darfur. I was alarmed when Margaret Ritchie said that the Sudanese Government are in the process of integrating the Arab militia, the Janjaweed, into the regular army. That sinister development must be highlighted and opposed.

It is important to bear in mind the substance of the motion, which is support for the United Nations Security Council resolution that UN and African Union forces be deployed in Darfur. That is the only guarantee of the peace and stability necessary to allow a political solution to be devised.

We must remember the lessons of Rwanda and of the former Yugoslavia, and we must remember in dealing with the situation that the people who committed crimes in those countries are being brought to justice.

I commend the motion to the House on behalf of its proposer, and I commend the House for its patience and generosity of spirit in dealing with the motion and for creating and developing a consensus around the issue. I am sure that those who have suffered deeply in Darfur will appreciate it.

Question put and agreed to.


Bearing in mind the appalling human tragedy in Darfur, this Assembly calls on all democratic governments, especially the Irish and British Governments with which this Assembly has particular interaction, to use all their influence on the Government of Sudan to accept immediate deployment of the United Nations force in Darfur, as mandated by the United Nations Security Council.

Adjourned at 3.46 pm.

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