Monday 22 January 2007
The Assembly met at 12.00 noon (Madam Speaker in the Chair).
Members observed two minutes’ silence.
Additional Debating Time (Muckamore Abbey Hospital)
Rev Dr Ian Paisley: On a point of order, Madam Speaker. What arrangements are you prepared to make to allow the House to discuss some matters that should be debated before this Assembly is dissolved next week? I refer to the serious problems at Muckamore Abbey Hospital. When people are locked away because there is no accommodation elsewhere to allow them to be at liberty, the House should have an opportunity to discuss the matter.
Is there any reason why we cannot take more time next week to debate a motion on the situation? That would allow any Members who wished to speak 10 minutes in which to make their case.
Mr McElduff: Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. I support Dr Paisley’s request for a debate on Muckamore Abbey Hospital. Will the Business Committee consider holding an extra sitting this week — perhaps on Wednesday — to discuss Nuala O’Loan’s latest report, which is on the murder of Raymond McCord and others as a result of state collusion between the RUC and loyalist paramilitaries?
Madam Speaker: If I may answer Dr Paisley first, we are all extremely concerned about the situation at Muckamore Abbey Hospital. As he knows, for the House to debate the issue, a motion must be tabled in the Business Office so that the Business Committee, which will meet on Wednesday, can consider it for inclusion in next week’s business.
I remind Members that Monday 29 January is the only day next week on which we may have a sitting. I hope that Lord Morrow, or another DUP Member, will bring a motion to the Business Committee on Wednesday, so that we can consider the matter seriously.
Mr McElduff’s point will also be discussed by the Whips at the Business Committee meeting. If he wishes to inform his party Whip of the matter, we will discuss it on Wednesday as well.
Rev Dr Ian Paisley: Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. Would you be in favour of having an extra sitting some day this week?
Madam Speaker: Thank you, Dr Paisley. As you know, it would be wrong for me to express a view on that. I will take what comes. The Business Office will consider any proposals put to it. We will discuss the matter tomorrow and bring it to the Business Committee on Wednesday for full discussion. If the Business Committee decides that a sitting should be held on Wednesday, we will do that. I thank the Member for his interest.
Madam Speaker: Before we move to today’s business, I will deal with a point of order that was raised by Mr McElduff on Monday 15 January 2007 about the declaration of interests relevant to the debate on rural schools that took place that day.
I take this opportunity to remind Members of their obligation to declare relevant interests when they are participating in debates or proceedings of this Assembly. In accordance with the Standing Orders of the 2006 Assembly, all Members were required to inform the Clerk to the Assembly of the particulars of their registrable interests for inclusion in the Register of Members’ Interests. The register has been published and copied to Members. A copy containing subsequent and up-to-date revisions is available for inspection in room 244 and on the Assembly website. [Interruption.]
I cannot hear myself speak, which is perhaps one of the reasons why I did not pronounce the word “registrable” correctly. I ask Members to please listen to what I am saying.
Standing Order 29(e) of this Transitional Assembly requires every Member to inform the Clerk to the Assembly of any alterations to his or her registrable interests within four weeks of each change occurring. However, in addition, Members are required, by virtue of Standing Order 29(f), before taking part in any debate or proceeding of the Assembly, to declare any interest, financial or otherwise, which is relevant to that debate or proceeding, where such interest is held by the Member or an immediate relative. I believe that that is the point to which Mr McElduff referred last Monday.
It is important that Members understand the distinction between the declaration of interests and the registration of interests. This distinction is set out in general terms in paragraphs 38 to 42 of the ‘Guide to the Rules Relating to the Conduct of Members’. The guide is clear that Members are required to declare relevant current, past and future interests.
I am grateful to Mr McElduff for raising this point, as it provides me with an opportunity to assist Members. I remind Members that, as always, the Clerks will offer advice on any queries that Members may have about the registration or declaration of interests. Therefore, if Members have any doubts, I recommend that they check with the Clerks.
The Bain Report
Madam Speaker: The Business Committee has agreed to allow two and a half hours for each of today’s debates. The Member moving each motion will have 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.
Mr McNarry: I beg to move
That this Assembly notes the recommendations made by Professor Sir George Bain in the Report of the Independent Strategic Review of Education and calls on the Minister for Education to defer any decisions on the Report until the Northern Ireland Assembly is restored.
I have no vested interest in this matter, except as a constituent living under direct rule.
Regrettably, there is evidence that the Government are not listening to the Transitional Assembly’s voice on any issue that we have debated and agreed on recently.
Perhaps that can be altered today. If this is a legally constitutional Transitional Assembly, it is, therefore, a legitimate point that the direct-rule Minister for education must also be transitional. If she was able to suspend a decision on academic selection pending the restoration of a devolved Executive, why should not all of her decisions be suspended awaiting the restoration of devolution? She has recently legislated for a new devolved Assembly to continue with a form of academic selection, yet she has responded to the Bain Report as though the selection issue has been resolved, which Members know is not the case.
Is she confused? I want to illustrate just how confused the transitional Minister is. I refer to her statement of 12 December 2006, which was accompanied by a letter addressed to Members of the Legislative Assembly. In that letter, the Minister welcomed the review without hesitation and firmly signalled the Government’s endorsement of the report’s recommendations. If, as she says, her endorsement of the review was not intended to launch a drive on school rationalisation, then she is confused again. The review’s chairman, Sir George Bain, states categorically in his foreword that:
“as the work advanced, the economic case for rationalisation remained important”.
The crux of the matter is whether the Transitional Assembly is justified in calling for the Bain Report to be deferred until a devolved Assembly decides upon its implementation or otherwise. I believe that it is justified. We must not rush to endorse the report. By tabling this motion, and by asking colleagues to support a deferment, my party is seeking time for all parties to consider the impact that the report will have and, essentially, what difference it will bring to at least eight priority education issues that are the current policy benchmarks facing children who are at school and those who are soon to commence school. Those priorities are under-achievement; equality of opportunity; special needs provision; parental preference; admissions policy; a sustainable schools policy; an alternative to the 11-plus test; and transfer procedure.
Let me return to the vexed question of rationalisation. My party will not argue with Bain if he plans to rationalise the five main school sectors. Sooner rather than later, survival will dictate that those five sectors will be reduced to three or even two. My party’s argument is not that Northern Ireland has too many schools or too many small schools but that its system is congested by too many players.
That brings me to the transfer process and admissions criteria. Unfortunately, the review has not fully considered, strategically or otherwise, the effect of moving the transfer age from 11 to 14. Had it done so, I suspect that its findings on sustainability, the schools’ estate and collaboration, budget requirements and, in particular, area-based planning could have been extremely significant in moving people away from the fears of selection at age 11 to age 14.
I hope that all will not be lost. Now that its minutes have been signed off, I am at liberty to advise the House of the advanced thinking that emanates from the Subgroup to Consider the Schools Admission Policy, which concluded its report last Tuesday. Despite its difficulties and the obvious differences on the selection issue, the subgroup reached agreement on 21 recommendations, including one important practical issue. It agreed that further research should be commissioned urgently on the experience of transfer at age 14, including the Dickson plan in Craigavon and other systems elsewhere in Europe. This should include an assessment of the resource implications of restructuring schools to accommodate such a system as an area-based solution.
My party — and I am sure that I can also speak for the DUP on this occasion — is extremely grateful to the subgroup’s representatives from the SDLP and Sinn Féin for their helpful consideration of the practicalities, and their agreement to make the proposals unanimous recommendations. We, in turn, recognised that their actions did not imply their consent to the continuation of academic selection.
If this recommendation were to be actioned by an incoming Executive, and work initiated to consider school transfers at the age of 14, the desired effect would be to make the Government sit up and pay attention to the business of this House today. Therefore, to proceed on the basis that the report gives a balanced and authoritative account of the need to change Northern Ireland’s school system for educational, economic and social reasons would be an unwise decision by the direct-rule Minister.
There are many anxieties about the report. The UUP is concerned about the impact on schools that fall through the numerical safety net and face either closure or constant review. Figures from the 2005-06 Northern Ireland school census, cross-referenced with what the report dictates as the minimum — not optimal — enrolment numbers for primary, post-primary and sixth-form situations, are revealing. For primary schools in urban areas with fewer than 140 pupils, 84 out of 391, or 21·5%, would be for the chop; 385 out of 512 primary schools in rural areas with fewer than 105 pupils, or a whopping 60%, would be knocked out; in the category of post-primary schools with fewer than 500 pupils, 92 secondary schools, of which 34 are rural and 58 are urban, or 57%, face a threat; and 14 grammar schools, four rural and 10 urban, representing over 20% of grammar schools, would be under review. To round off the depression, over 66% of secondary schools are likely to be under the strain of review because they have sixth forms with fewer than 100 pupils. As yet, there are no grammar schools with fewer than 100 pupils in the sixth form.
Those figures are staggering, and they expose the extent of the cull that the Bain Report will impose on schools — a massive blitz that will hit secondary and primary schools. The schools involved know the fate that awaits them if the direct-rulers follow up on their enthusiasm to endorse the action demanded by the report’s recommendations.
I am glad that, over the summer and autumn, I pressed colleagues on the Subgroup on the Economic Challenges Facing Northern Ireland to argue for an extra £20 million for schools, with some to be allocated to special-needs provision. I am also pleased to report that the four main parties on the subgroup genuinely backed me on that request. I know that we have not got that money, but it is there as a marker to be argued for with the Chancellor. If the will is there to go and get it, it is there to be got.
Apart from special needs, I had it in mind that a sizeable cut of the £20 million should be used to resource a speciality approach to reducing underachievement — a dedicated resource strategy that aims to catch children who show signs of learning difficulties as early as possible. That is why the UUP is keen to see support for resources that are directed at that speciality approach to guide and develop underachievers through primary and secondary school, and to give credence to an opportunity to dramatically reduce the number of pupils who leave school without basic qualifications.
If the intention of the Bain Report was to stimulate, encourage and quality-assure the school environment, then it has failed. On the other hand, if the desired effect was to shock, threaten and destabilise the school environment, then it has succeeded with distinction. Somehow, Transitional or not, this House must positively signal to those in the school environment that, in asking for a deferment, its intention is to take time in a new devolved Executive to fully consider the implications and ramifications of this report and, in so doing, to prevent the Department of Education under the direct-rule Minister Maria Eagle from carrying out what she set out in her letter and public statement of 12 December 2006.
(Mr Deputy Speaker [Mr Wells] in the Chair)
Mr Deputy Speaker, if the motion is passed, will you ask the Speaker to inform the Secretary of State of its success and to convey to him the feelings of Assembly Members? I commend the motion to the House, along with the SDLP amendment, which we are happy to incorporate.
Mr D Bradley: I beg to move the following amendment: At end insert
“; and in the meantime, to work with all of the education providers to develop a draft sustainable schools’ policy for consideration by the restored Assembly.”
Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Tá áthas orm seans a fháil chun an tuairisc seo a phlé, nó ceapaim go bhfuil an-tábhacht léi i dtaobh thodhchaí an oideachais sa chuid seo den tír.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to participate in this debate, as the Bain Report has serious implications for the future of education in Northern Ireland. At the outset, I declare an interest as a member of staff at St Paul’s High School, Bessbrook and a member of the board of governors at Bunscoil an Iúir. I commend Mr McNarry for tabling the motion, and I am pleased that he has accepted the SDLP amendment.
The reorganisation of the schools’ estate is one of the biggest challenges facing the education authorities in this part of the country. It presents the opportunity to co-ordinate planning on such issues as the new entitlement framework, extended schools, special educational needs and school transport. We must face up to the challenge, and the final decisions relating to it must be made by a local education Minister and restored Assembly.
In the meantime, the Department and the education providers can do much to develop a sustainable schools policy. For instance, the concept of area-based planning for education can be worked on as a key element of that. General agreement exists on that approach, and there is no reason why that work cannot begin immediately with the aim of reaching agreement in those areas.
In carrying out that work, it is important that existing sectors work in collaboration with one another while continuing to represent the needs, expectations and ethos of their respective sectors. It is also important that the sectors consider options for cross-community collaboration and sharing, while ensuring that the principle of parental choice is preserved in any new arrangements. Care must be taken to ensure that the areas are delineated in such a way that they are equally balanced and one planning area does not detrimentally impact upon another.
The Bain Report proposes that future education planning should be co-ordinated with planning in other areas, such as health, social services, adult education, youth provision, sports, arts and recreation, and community regeneration and development. The potential exists to extend core school functions, develop learning communities, foster increased parental interest in education — particularly in areas of social deprivation — and encourage such communities to value education more highly.
The extended schools initiative can also be integrated into that area; it is a proposal that reflects some of the themes that emerged from the debate in the Assembly last week. I said then that educational underachievement cannot be tackled solely on an educational basis but must be part of a broader strategy that tackles the underlying causes of social deprivation.
It will be evident to anyone who has read the Bain Report that the closure of small schools is one of its major themes, despite the fact that the report states that most surplus places are not found in small schools, but in larger schools. I do not wish to rehearse the arguments and points that I raised last week during the debate on the threat to rural schools, but the core issue of the report is the future of smaller schools in Northern Ireland.
The viability quotas set by Bain for rural and urban schools will, if acted upon, lead to a large number of closures. I thank Mr McNarry for outlining the salient statistics. Education providers regard the quotas set by Bain as unsuitable. That issue must be addressed in any draft sustainable schools policy. We must ensure that smaller schools do not become the scapegoat for mass rationalisation.
The Bain Report proposes ways in which smaller schools can work together, including confederation, federation, co-location, shared campuses, and extended schools. A draft sustainable schools policy must fully explore those options and include better modelling of the possibilities that each option offers, and how each option might work in particular circumstances.
A strategic forum that is representative of all educational providers should explore models of association in a non-threatening environment that does not prejudice any interests. Such a forum would be helpful to the Department of Education. It may be that the traditional image of the local school — based on one site, with one principal and one board of governors — needs to be modified to accommodate a new view that may be based on several sites, more than one principal, and more than one board of governors.
Several examples of that type of association already exist and operate successfully to the benefit of pupils and to the satisfaction of parents and the community. Those arrangements have been more cost effective than the closure of existing schools and their replacement by amalgamated new builds. Rather than act on the raw proposals of the Bain Report, the Department of Education must encourage creative and innovative thinking that will aid the rationalisation of the schools’ estate, without the mass closures that the Bain Report implies.
The Department of Education should reward creative and innovative solutions that address the situation effectively, and it should provide the necessary resources to allow measures to be implemented and bed down over a reasonable period. If the Department, in co-operation with education providers, begins to work on those issues with a view to developing realistic and viable forms of association, there is every possibility that the raw proposals of the Bain Report can be fashioned into a sustainable schools policy. Such a policy would address the future of the schools’ estate in a way that would ensure its future and guarantee that each pupil continued high quality of education, rather than threatening the mass closure of smaller schools. Go raibh míle maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle.
Mr S Wilson: I am somewhat surprised at the wording of the motion because the Bain Report does not actually demand any immediate action by Ministers. Whether we like it or not, the report highlights many issues that the Assembly, direct-rule Ministers, or some other bodies in the future, must address. The report does not only highlight those issues, it suggests some solutions.
I understand where the proposer of the motion is coming from, because the focus of attention has been on the Bain Report’s rather strange conclusion at the end of chapter 7. It specifies minimum enrolment figures for new primary schools, sixth-form colleges and secondary schools. However, the report hardly substantiates the fact that the specified minimum could be adhered to in every case. The report cites many qualifications, such as how it is impossible to make long-term projections for a school without knowing the impact of new leadership or whether economic development or immigration may lead to radical changes. Therefore those numbers, in practice, must be flexible.
The Bain Report may have put forward those numbers to provoke thought. Nevertheless, the issue is more blurred than the specification of those absolute numbers suggests. It also contradicts the report’s continual references to sustainable schools, the criteria for which include not only enrolment figures but also the:
“finances, school leadership and management, accessibility, and … the quality of the educational experience”,
and so forth. Enrolment figures must be flexible because those criteria vary from one school to another.
The report highlights several educational facts of life from which no policy-maker or public representative can run away. The huge surplus of school places is a drain on resources. During Assembly debates, parties have always held out their hands for more money — and rightly so, because that is the job of public representatives. However, at some stage, parties must make a case for that money.
As the Bain Report points out, education in Northern Ireland is not under-resourced compared with other parts of the United Kingdom. The problem simply is that resources are not used as efficiently as they should be. I hark back to what I said last week, when some Members opposite jumped up and down: one reason that the report offers for the inefficient use of resources is that there is a plethora of education providers and:
“supporting five sectors … incurs significant costs.” — [Official Report, Bound Volume 21, p317, col 2].
Money goes to administration rather than the classroom. Parties must address that issue, which means making hard choices. In last week’s debate, I pointed out the impact that the report may have on the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS). Suddenly it has dawned on CCMS what that means, and people are jumping up and down saying that they will organise a massive petition across the Province.
The report also points out that money is being spent unnecessarily because the Sinn Féin Minister in the Northern Ireland Assembly established two new educational sectors, on favourable terms. The Minister permitted integrated schools and Irish-medium schools to start up with as few as 12 pupils. The report states that that has led to a significant dissipation of resources and a resulting decrease in efficiencies. The report is right to highlight those issues, and they must be addressed.
I agree with some aspects of the Bain Report. The DUP will not oppose the motion because, although it was not reflected in the tone of the proposer’s speech, change should not happen too quickly.
The Bain Report points out that its recommendations do not need to be implemented suddenly or in one fell swoop. In fact, the report states:
“The change cannot, and should not, be achieved hastily.”
Prof Bain recognises, as the previous contributor said, that his recommendations must be implemented against a background of a sustainable schools policy and long-term investment. Some changes will require investment over a long period of time and changes in educational administration if they are to be effective. I welcome the Bain Report’s recognition that we are dealing with issues that cannot be immediately resolved at the stroke of a Minister’s pen.
I also support the report’s view of area-based planning, which cannot work under current structures. Members opposite may have some difficulty with that because, without education and library boards, which are to be done away with, area-based structures in the controlled sector will be easier to set up. Education and library boards will no longer control particular areas. One cannot have area-based planning if, simultaneously, an Irish-medium sector, an integrated sector and the CCMS are all planning for their areas of responsibility.
Area-based planning will require as much autonomy as possible for individual schools in setting budgets, planning, and co-operation with other schools. The DUP has advocated that policy for a long time. That alone will present a challenge to many of the existing education structures. If schools that are largely responsible for their own budgets are faced with a £200,000 or £500,000 deficit — and if they cannot fall back on someone else to bail them out — better local decisions may be made.
Agreement is more likely when decisions are made by local boards of governors and local schools that interface with communities as part of holistic community planning, which will, I hope, be devolved to the new councils. That will create much greater local input. The recommendation of the Bain Report for area-based structures is important.
Although he does not quite have the courage to say it explicitly, I welcome Prof Bain’s hint that we must do away with the current policy of allowing new small schools to open because they happen to be the political favourite of the day, whether they are Irish-medium or integrated schools. I am glad to see that the Minister has already taken that matter into account. She has annoyed the Irish-medium and integrated sectors, but I believe that she took necessary steps to ensure that we do not see a plethora of new schools as we examine long-term needs.
The Bain Report highlights the facts of life. We must take some of its recommendations with a pinch of salt, but it includes some good solutions. This matter will be the bane of our lives for the next number of years. [Laughter.]
Mr McElduff: Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Cuirim fáilte roimh an díospóireacht seo, nó táimid ag plé tuairisic thar a bheith tábhachtach ó thaobh oideachais de. Tá sé ceart agus fóirsteanach dúinn, i mo bharúil féin, an díospóireacht seo a bheith againn ag an am seo.
I wish to declare an interest as a governor of St Patrick’s Primary School in Eskra, as a governor of St Patrick’s Primary School in Garvallagh, and as a member of the Western Education and Library Board.
I welcome the debate on the Report of the Independent Strategic Review of Education conducted by Prof Bain and supported by his colleague Matthew Murray and two consultants. Page 3 of the report details the terms of reference.
The motion moved by David McNarry calls for decision-making and the implementation of the Bain Report to await the restoration of the Assembly. David McNarry says that a local Minister would be best placed to take the report forward, and I agree. I tabled an amendment that was not accepted by the Business Committee. However, if it had been accepted it would have read that:
“This Assembly further calls on the British and Irish Governments and all of the local political parties to work to ensure that the Assembly is restored by 26th March, so that necessary decisions can be taken in the best educational interests of our children without undue delay.”
That amendment would have helped, because it would have injected the necessary urgency into the debate and not just suspended decision-making indefinitely.
Mr Kennedy: On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. The Speaker’s Office declined to take Mr McElduff’s amendment. However, Mr McElduff is now rehearsing the amendment and is clearly intent on speaking to it. Are you, Mr Deputy Speaker, able to make a ruling on that? It seems unsatisfactory that when an amendment is rejected, a Member can ignore that and proceed effectively to propose — or at least talk to — it.
Mr Deputy Speaker: The Member can refer to those issues. However, he does not have an amendment before the House, so he is technically in order, although I suspect that he is about to raise issues that he should not raise, and, therefore, I ask Mr McElduff to be careful.
Mr McElduff: I am grateful that the clock stopped when Mr Kennedy began to speak, and I hope that he is keeping well.
My comments mirror my party’s view on education. Education is central to Sinn Féin’s vision of a society of equals. Everybody has a basic entitlement to equality of opportunity, access and educational provision. We should be addressing and redressing generational and educational disadvantage and community networks of learning, and the report looks closely at them. Education should also be about liberating the potential of every young person, child or learner.
The best educational interests of a child, young person or learner must underpin this and every other educational decision. As everyone knows, a lot is happening in education at this time with new policy developments, often referred to as the context of change. A friend of mine referred to it as the perfect 100-year storm, where everything is happening now in education. Some of the changes include curriculum reform, “Entitled to Succeed” arrangements for post-primary education, specialist schools, the development of the pupil profile concept alongside parental preference and greater collaboration in and across sectors. [Interruption.]
Mr Deputy Speaker, it is hard to hear myself speak with Gregory Campbell and Maurice Morrow conducting a full-scale conversation.
Mr Kennedy: Lord Morrow to you.
Mr McElduff: I heard that. I will focus directly on the Bain Report and the strategic context of demographic change.
Everyone knows that there has been a major reduction in the pupil population and that falling school enrolments present major challenges. Prof Bain reckons that there are 50,000 surplus places in the North, and that is expected to rise to 80,000. There are various arguments about the accuracy of those statistics, but there is universal acceptance that there is overprovision. There is merit to the argument that unused teaching spaces amount to an inefficient use of resources. Change lies ahead, and nobody is arguing for the status quo.
Other Members have stated that Prof Bain courts controversy. He specifies 105 pupils as the minimum enrolment threshold — or viability quota as referred to by Dominic Bradley; 105 pupils for new rural primary schools; 140 for new urban primary schools; 500 for new post-primary schools — no distinction between rural and urban there — and 100 pupils for sixth-form enrolment.
Of course, that is said by Bain not to be the optimal but rather the minimum threshold, and it provides as many questions as it does answers. Will that be mirrored by the Department of Education and ministerial thinking? I call on Maria Eagle to make very clear the statement that is expected in the near future on sustainable schools. That statement is anxiously awaited and should be made now. People are looking on from the rest of Ireland, where there is also a small-school culture, and the policy must be developed with children’s best educational interests at heart.
Another question is this: what is to happen when a school’s population falls below the numbers specified? Bain argues that small schools do not provide the best education given curriculum breadth and quality, specialist teacher provision, modern facilities and social interaction. He makes it clear that future composite classes should be made up of no more than two year groups. That is one aspect of the argument, but there is another aspect, which is underdeveloped in George Bain’s Report, and it is a complete absence to the advantages — [Interruption.]
I must say, Mr Deputy Speaker, that it is extremely difficult to make a statement here.
Mr Deputy Speaker: Order, order. I am sure, Lord Morrow, that you are hanging onto every word that Mr McElduff is saying, but perhaps it would be best to give the Member a chance to be heard.
Mr McElduff: Mr Deputy Speaker, I must say that there is a high degree of disrespect and even contempt emanating from Maurice Morrow. I have to say that that is the bottom line.
The advantages of small schools have not been spelled out in the report given pupil-teacher ratio, school ethos and community involvement. I point to a very good article in last Tuesday’s ‘Belfast Telegraph’ in which Colin Berry, the new principal of Aughnacloy College, spelled out the benefits of a small post-primary school in his experience.
Any informed debate will look closely at the merits and demerits of the argument, and there has to be some rural proofing of a sustainable schools policy, so that properly balanced decisions are made in the future.
The section of the report on collaboration between schools and further education, recommendations 43 to 51, contains much creative thinking. It reminds us all of our commitment to a shared future and of the fact that all schools have a role to play, not in what is called integrated schools, but in integrating education.
I note that NICIE (Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education) has said that this should not become a tick-box exercise with mere contact between schools, but that some accreditation should be given to schools that enter into the spirit properly.
There is talk of area-based planning and closer links between post-primary schools and further education colleges as well as with other training providers, so that 14 to 19 year olds can enjoy the broadest possible curriculum and the best education experience possible. At this point I commend those forward-looking communities in Limavady, Ballycastle, Omagh and other places that are already involved in this type of collaborative working partnership.
Furthermore, Bain points us towards new models of clustering, sharing, school management and governance between primary schools, which contain merit and require further exploration. One size does not fit all with area-based planning. An extreme example of that is Rathlin Island, where there is a very small number of children attending a primary school; I certainly am not arguing for that to discontinue. The children on Rathlin Island deserve a small rural school in a small rural setting, which will last into the future; that is why flexibility is needed.
I note the concerns voiced by church leaders about the need to protect the religious ethos of individual schools within the context of sharing and collaboration. It will be interesting to see how the Minister deals with that, as well as with concerns that private finance will limit the school estate.
I will now conclude my speech; Maurice Morrow will be delighted at that. The amendment, a leas Cheann Comhairle, attracts my party’s favour and support. Go raibh míle maith agat.
Mrs Long: I welcome the opportunity to discuss the report of the Independent Strategic Review of Education. However, I share Sammy Wilson’s view that, in its current form, the motion is pointless.
Mr McNarry voiced his disgust that the Assembly is often not listened to. Mr Bradley reinforced that, and said that this report was one of the greatest challenges facing education. It is therefore bizarre to find, at the end of the report, that the only political party that responded to the review was the Alliance Party. No other party in the Chamber managed — despite huge resources for research and policy development, supplemented by Government at the expense of the taxpayer — to respond to what they see as a fundamental and important review. By contrast, with a limited staff and budget, the Alliance Party managed to do so.
A Member: Will the Member give way?
Mrs Long: No, thank you.
It is important to act on the report. I have called consistently for a coherent and strategic approach to the education problems that face society. I have criticised the current Minister for taking decisions based purely on financial considerations in a strategic vacuum. Such decisions could prejudice the viability of future education strategy and provision.
At present, school closures are driven entirely and exclusively by budgetary considerations. That is wrong. We must not decide the future of education on the basis of end-of-year deficits. That is not a good system. People may be uncomfortable with the alternatives being suggested in the Assembly, but making decisions purely and simply on the basis of end-of-year deficits is not the way forward. I will develop that argument further.
Simply asking the Government to defer decisions on the report will not stop the process of rationalisation. It will merely allow the process to proceed in an ad hoc and unstructured way, which would be to the detriment of education provision and of young people. The danger is that schools will continue to be rationalised through death by a thousand cuts, which schools in my constituency and across Northern Ireland are already suffering. That is unfair on parents, pupils and staff. The agony of slow decline that many schools currently are experiencing, driven purely by budgets, is unfair and detrimental to education.
Mr S Wilson: I accept that strategy should not be driven purely by budgets. However, does the Member agree that when a school runs into massive deficits — sometimes as much as 45% of its total budget — then inevitably, because of the decisions that the school has to make, there will be death by a thousand cuts, as classroom assistants and key teachers are lost?
Mrs Long: That is the case. However, if there is a proper strategy for review of education provision, decisions can be taken on the basis of information more substantive than end-of-year deficits. Decisions should be taken on the basis of quality of provision and access to good-quality education. Those should be the drivers that determine where schools should be located and how they should be managed.
There is a further issue. Rationalisation is an ongoing process; it has not halted until the Assembly gets up and running. Rather, it will continue on a sectoral basis, rather than along geographical lines, and will further damage the coherence and cohesion of local communities and increase, rather than decrease, the degree of segregation in the community. That is not helpful.
David McNarry read a partial quotation from the report. The full quotation lends more to the debate. Partial quotations and half-truths always make it difficult to get a feel for the situation.
In the foreword to the report, Sir George Bain states:
“At the beginning of the Review’s work, I thought it would be mainly concerned with the issue of ‘surplus places’ and the economic case — cost-effective provision that gives good value for money — for rationalising the schools’ estate. As the work advanced, the economic case for rationalisation remained important, but two other arguments for rationalisation became even more important”.
Sir George goes on to outline the educational and social cases, which encompassed:
“access for pupils to the full range of the curriculum, to high quality teaching, and to modern facilities … and … societal well-being by promoting a culture of tolerance, mutual understanding, and inter-relationship”.
To use a partial quote and to maintain that the report is economically driven is most unfair on what actually emerged during its formulation.
Mr McNarry: Will the Member give way?
Mrs Long: No, I will not give way.
The figures highlighted by Mr McNarry simply indicate the depth of the current crisis for schools provision. The figures do not suggest a solution, and neither does Mr McNarry. We may not agree that a purely numbers-based formula is an appropriate way to determine the outcomes for schools. However, in fairness, neither does the Bain Report. Its list of recommendations states that when a school’s enrolment falls below the relevant level, it should be reviewed; it does not say that the school should be closed.
Mr McNarry: Will the Member give way?
Mrs Long: No, I will not give way. Mr McNarry had adequate time to put his case when he moved the motion. I want to put my case.
Mr McNarry: On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I will probably not get away with this —
Mr Kennedy: Try us.
Mr McNarry: It is misinformation. The Member is accusing me of misquoting and not going the whole hog. However, her last point concerned post-primary schools, not primary schools, which is what I was talking about.
Mr Deputy Speaker : That is not a point of order.
Mrs Long: The figures that have been highlighted simply point to the depth of the crisis that must be addressed. We must establish a bottom line for any future review. At the moment, end-of-year deficits are driving the education boards and the Department of Education; we must have a more structured method. A numbers-only method is not appropriate either; that is referred to in the report, which further contends that elements such as management and social issues should be considered only in addition to the numbers argument. If we do not look at the complete picture, we are in danger of whipping up hysteria where none need exist.
The overarching message of the report is the need to move away from a fragmented system towards a single, shared, fit-for-purpose education arrangement that is open to everyone and is flexible and inclusive enough to accommodate the religious, social, cultural and, most importantly, educational needs of all pupils.
I welcome Sammy Wilson’s assertion that this issue will be the bane of his life as well as ours. I suspect that his assertion is built on a confidence that we will be back here, not in a Transitional Assembly but, as the result of a positive turn of events, in a more stable form. That is to be welcomed. However, to delay progress on this issue until there is a functioning Assembly is not realistic. Despite Sammy Wilson’s confidence, there is no certainty in the public consciousness that devolution is a matter of weeks away. Rather, there is a great deal of deliberate ambiguity and obfuscation on the issue.
I am a committed devolutionist; I believe that the best kind of governance is local governance. However, until such time as the parties in the Chamber are willing to step up to the plate, take responsibility for their decisions and do the job, the direct-rule Administration does not simply have the right to govern, but it has the responsibility and the obligation to do so and to do it well.
Last week, the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action (NICVA) highlighted the damage done to Northern Ireland by the years of the direct-rule Administration’s caretaker mentality. The policy vacuums created by that mentality led to unresponsive government and, at times, punishment government, where policy was used as a stick to beat local parties.
That cannot continue. It is a matter for the parties in the Chamber whether a devolved Administration is established. However, the need to deal with education is in the hands of the direct-rule Ministers, and they must act. I hope that, one day, education will be in the hands of people in the Chamber and that they will act on it. Education has already been made a hostage to political progress — carrots in the shape of academic selection have been dangled in front of various parties. That must stop: it is no way to develop an education system.
We need to move from analysis towards proper engagement so that at some point, and, I hope, under a local Administration, firm, strategic decisions on education issues are made. That is better than allowing our current mess to continue.
Mrs D Dodds: In line with the warnings that Madam Speaker gave at the commencement of the debate, I declare that I am a member of the Belfast Education and Library Board.
Mr S Wilson: I would not declare that, if it were me. [Laughter.]
Mrs D Dodds: I do so for my sins, whether for good or for ill.
I welcome the debate. It is valuable, and it is important for our children’s future and education. The Bain Report raises questions, but it does not answer them all. It sets out difficulties and suggests possible solutions. Some parts of the document are unsatisfactory because they are not particularly clear and do not grasp the nettle of the difficulties sufficiently to give us clear guidance on possible solutions.
(Madam Speaker in the Chair)
For those of us who have taken an interest in education, some parts of the Bain Report are extremely thought provoking. One is its suggestion to establish an area plan for schools in a particular geographical area. However, the report is unsatisfactory because it is unclear what that plan will mean. Will it include all schools in a given area, or will we simply have a continuation of the current system, allowing the different sectors in that area to draw up their own plans for their own sectors? Interestingly — and I do not think that many Members have mentioned this point — we need to know how that area plan would engage with local communities and how it would provide for their sustainability. Population movements, particularly in Belfast, have led to the formation of highly polarised communities. How will the Bain Report’s area-plan concept help sustain those communities and provide educational services for them? Given that schools are the hub and lifeblood of communities, we need to know how area plans will engage with those polarised communities. That problem is particularly relevant to urban areas and to small rural schools.
The Bain Report has the potential to be helpful, but, as I have already said, in many cases it has not grasped the nettle of the problems and has not offered specific solutions. Reorganisation of the system needs to be set alongside the reorganisation of local government, the new education authority and the need for local government to engage in the development of communities and to help them move into the future.
The Bain Report has considered overcapacity in schools. Nowhere else in the United Kingdom or the world can match the number of different types of school management that there are in Northern Ireland. In other parts of the world there are private, faith and specialist schools. However, they are not all state funded: that is the difference between those schools and ours. Different management schemes inevitably mean extra costs. Education and training costs in Northern Ireland are 30% more per capita than anywhere else in the United Kingdom. Although we spend more, the existence of multiple sectors means that less money reaches pupils in Northern Ireland.
Despite education spending representing 10% of GDP compared with 5% for the rest of the UK, the actual spend per pupil is 14·5% less for primary schools and 2·5% less for post-primary schools here than in England and Wales.
The dramatic fall in numbers across all sectors must also be considered. In Belfast, the most significant drop has been in the maintained sector, although there is also a gradual decline in numbers in the controlled sector.
Surplus places in education in Northern Ireland rose by 14% over the past decade, and we now have 47,000 surplus places. The Department of Education, in its doomsday scenario, has predicted that there will be 80,000 surplus places in 10 years’ time.
Northern Ireland has a higher proportion of small schools. Nineteen per cent of schools have 60 pupils or fewer, compared with 12% in Great Britain. The level of single-sex schools here is also higher — 31% of secondary schools, compared with 11·5% in England and 2·5% in Wales.
The persistence of large numbers of different education systems, with their multiple sets of bureaucracy, is no longer acceptable, particularly given the severely restricted education budgets. There have been two parallel systems, enshrined since 1922, educating pupils in the controlled and maintained sectors. Since then, we have added the integrated and Irish-medium sectors. The costs of the different sectors are being felt, and I would like to illustrate that: recent figures for transport costs put before the Belfast Education and Library Board (BELB) showed that schools such as St Gemma’s High School, the Belfast Boys’ Model School and the Belfast Model School for Girls had no transport costs, while the transport costs for integrated education were £191,330.
That is only one aspect of the cost of different sectors in the education system. The Member for East Belfast Mrs Long talked about rationalisation being driven by end-of-year deficits. In the BELB area, because of traditional methods for making payments to schools, the biggest deficit for a post-primary school is held by a Catholic maintained school. BELB has no control over the rationalisation policy of the CCMS, although there are plans for a meeting this week. The cuts that will be used to service that deficit are being borne by children in the controlled sector. We are seeing a situation in which the education system is actively discriminating against one particular sector.
Schools from different sectors work effectively at local level through collaboration, joint planning and joint working to meet the needs of the pupils around the Province. Many examples have been quoted in the debate. However, we need to grasp the issue. We need to decide how best to service the education of an individual child. Maintaining different sectors in the education system, and the high and disproportionate costs of the bureaucracy connected with those sectors, does not help an individual child in pursuit of educational excellence.
Thankfully, under the new provisions, an unaccountable Sinn Féin Minister will never again be able, because of a political decision, to give a disproportionate advantage to a system in which a school can be opened with as few as 12 pupils. Again, pupils in the controlled sector are bearing the burden of the deficits of schools in the Irish-medium sector. Many of those newly set up already have significant deficits and surplus places.
The Bain Report has identified a number of issues that will not go away. The report will ensure that those who are in charge of education must make hard choices. Education authorities and local communities must decide their priorities for the future provision of education.
Mr K Robinson: I declare an interest as a governor of two primary schools in Newtownabbey.
I am grateful to my colleague —
Mrs Long: On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Mr Robinson has reminded me that, when I made my contribution, I failed to declare any interests. I am a member of the Belfast Education and Library Board and of the board of governors of Sydenham Infants’ School. I apologise for my oversight.
Madam Speaker: It is sometimes difficult for Members to remember whether they need to declare certain interests but, at the beginning of the debate, I did say that they should do so. I thank Mr Robinson for his reminder.
Mr K Robinson: I am sorry that I embarrassed my colleagues. [Laughter.]
I am grateful to my colleague Mr McNarry for bringing this issue before the Assembly. The Bain Report has immense implications, not only for our educational system, but for the future well-being of our entire society. Unless it is carefully analysed in a coherent manner, it has the potential to destabilise our rural community while simultaneously speeding up the educational retreat from the most marginalised communities in urban areas.
The Bain Report includes 61 recommendations, each worthy of intense scrutiny. However, due to the time constraints of this debate, the House will be relieved to hear that it is not my intention to go through them, line by line.
Mr S Wilson: Aw, go on.
Mr K Robinson: I know that you are disappointed, Sammy. [Laughter.]
During recent debates on rural schools and the links between poor educational attainment and social disadvantage, many Members highlighted the problems that beset rural communities. The common denominator between poor educational achievement and social disadvantage is the need to ensure that our schools deliver on the basics of literacy and numeracy. The recent Westminster Public Accounts Committee’s report on the Department of Education’s performance did not inspire confidence in that body’s ability to deliver that core function effectively. Therefore, I do not share the report’s confidence in either the Department of Education or in the proposed education and skills authority, which sounds suspiciously like another quango, to effectively address this issue rather than tilting at the windmills of social engineering.
Recommendations 6 and 7, under the heading ‘Effectiveness and Efficiency’, focus on school sustainability. The minimum enrolment stipulation of 105 pupils for new primary schools raises some issues for pupil-teacher ratios. If we assume that there would be seven class levels, from primary 1 to primary 7, comprising 105 pupils, are we to envisage seven classes, with 15 children in each — which would represent progress — or would there be a non-teaching principal, with six staff and some composite classes, or would there continue to be a 30:1 pupil-teacher ratio, allowing for three to four teachers? The basic staff entitlement for such a new school would need to be clarified by the teachers’ unions to ensure that a proper and effective staff is in place.
We must also consider the social and psychological impact on small primary 1 pupils who would have to face a bigger, more distant school, with unknown teachers and children from outside their circles, who may display different values and behaviour patterns from those of their parents and host communities. How would that situation impact on their attitudes and development? In time and distance, how great would be the acceptable norm to transport those impressionable children on school buses where, daily, they could observe behaviour from their fellow travellers that would not, in many instances, be tolerated in their homes?
In urban settings, the continuing denudation of marginalised areas will, no doubt, increase, leaving large swathes of our cities and towns with no local schools with which communities can identify.
How many teaching staff would be required, as of right, for a school that is subject to a minimum of 140 pupils? Will there be seven classes, each of 20 pupils? That might begin to address the major problems. What special educational provision will be available to those pupils? I somehow doubt that their educational opportunities will be enhanced.
Recommendation 1 of the Bain Report, on allocating the education budget, caught my attention, particularly the following phrase:
“The degree to which schools have control of their own budgets should be maximised”.
As a former school principal, the phrase “free at last” ran through my mind. However, I then noted recommendation 2, which states that:
“schools should receive financial and other incentives to share resources and deliver improved provision in collaboration with other schools.”
Principals will be free to control more — but not all — of their budgets. There is a continuing myth that principals and governors can manage their schools locally. In fact — as you and I know well, Madam Speaker — most of our schools have a minimal amount under their control from inadequate budgets after staff costs, which sometimes amount to more than 90% of the budget, are taken out. Perhaps recommendation 4 might offer some hope for the future. It states that:
“the Common Funding Formula should be reviewed to ensure that delegations under the formula reflect the costs of the main needs of schools.”
Recommendation 9 states that surplus should be no more than 10% of the schools’ estate’s total capacity. However, that may be outside the control of the school. For example, when I was a school principal on the Shankill, streets of family homes were demolished and their population dispersed. The result was that, when school numbers declined, the Housing Executive responded by building bungalows for pensioners. The displaced families were rehoused in out-of-town estates. New schools were built in the centre of those estates, and mobile classrooms were often required to cope with the numbers of pupils. Those estates have all matured at the same time: the young people have left; the populations are aging; and school numbers have declined. What a way to plan.
Currently, planners are giving permission for private developments without any corresponding infrastructure being in place. The result is that existing schools are swamped, mobile classrooms are brought back into service, and children are sometimes turned away, while nearby estate schools have many empty places. I have, therefore, limited faith in the Department of Education, the new education and skills authority, or the planners to get it right this time.
A new Administration in Northern Ireland must ensure that joined-up government is a reality, no longer simply a convenient catchphrase. Recommendation 13 urges the Department of Education, before the new education and skills authority acquires estate-planning capacity, to:
“act quickly and decisively to take forward area-based planning as soon as possible in the year 2007”.
Are we in for another mad rush to get it wrong? I contend that the Department of Education should not act in haste, lest it is required, yet again, by a future Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report to repent at leisure. It would be much more satisfactory if the existing education and library boards were to review the current information in a coherent manner. That would provide a sounder basis for identifying what constitutes a local area, identify local provision, identify proposals that would lead to a comprehensive understanding of the possibilities and the provisos, and ensure that a realistic and achievable timeframe could be put in place.
I have grave misgivings about the motivation that underpins the various moves towards the sharing of resources and staff. There are excellent examples of practical co-operation and sharing of resources and staff in many areas, including my constituency. Those measures are based on a genuine awareness of the need to maximise educational opportunities for all our children. I commend those projects and encourage them. However, I am concerned about the carrot-and-stick approach that is designed to cause schools — which may, in many cases, face local difficulties — to move in a particular direction in order to acquire extra funding or extra staff. That reminds me of how the education for mutual understanding (EMU) scheme was promoted in the past and how many schools became involved merely to access funding, while other natural schemes to involve children from different education sectors received no official recognition at all.
Schools and the Department of Education are charged with ensuring that all our children succeed in numeracy, literacy and those other basic skills that will enable them to become self-confident and self-sustaining members of society.
All evidence up to now indicates that that core objective has not been reached. The policy on special educational needs is also clearly failing to deal with the problems faced by pupils, parents and schools. The planning of the schools’ estate, mentioned in recommendation 42 of the report, may be helpful in developing that policy, but only if the school base supports specialist staff, is properly funded and staffing levels are adequate to tackle the task in hand.
Although my contribution has dwelt on the primary-school sector, I welcome recommendations 43 to 51, which concern collaboration between schools and the further education sector. As a former governor of a further education college, I feel that such co-operation is long overdue. It was, however, delayed by the introduction by Government of the competitive, rather than the co-operative, environment between colleges and schools. If our economy is to get up and running to its full potential, colleges need flexibility to promote courses, to respond to the needs of industry and, in the secondary and grammar sectors, to benefit from fair and factual careers advice on future employment prospects.
I note that the integrated education sector and the Irish-medium sector are specifically mentioned in the report.
Madam Speaker: Can the Member draw his remarks to a close?
Mr K Robinson: Yet again, that reinforces in the maintained and controlled sectors — which represent the overwhelming majority of pupils, teachers and staff — a continuing sense of being second-class citizens. I support the motion and the amendment.
Mrs O’Rawe: Thank you, a Cheann Comhairle. I support the amendment. As quite a lot of figures and statistics have been mentioned in the debate, rather than being repetitive, I intend to be brief.
As we all know, the education of all our children and young people is of the utmost importance. It is therefore crucial that sufficient budgets reflect the changing nature of schools provision in an environment that supports sharing and collaboration. Quite a few Members have mentioned that.
We all know that working partnerships are the way forward. However, it is essential that parental choice is not undermined. Our children and young people must be given the opportunities to enable them to reach their full potential in order to equip them with the necessary skills for their futures. Although it is crucial that criteria exist to protect learners’ needs, there must also be criteria that safeguard teachers’ needs.
Community educational networks have already been mentioned. Schools and their resources, especially in rural communities, should be used by the entire community. There are two good examples of community engagement in the Armagh area. In St Patrick’s High School in Keady, the council, the school and the community work in partnership, whereby both sections of the community use the school’s sporting and gym facilities because there are no other facilities of that nature in the area. A similar project is nearing completion in the Richhill area in County Armagh. That is another good example of community involvement and shared partnership. That is the obvious way forward to ensure that communities as a whole benefit from the resources in their areas.
Diane Dodds mentioned area plans and how they would engage with the community. Engagement with the community is crucial to any community plan and should be carried out through a community planning process. A good example of community planning is the ‘Planning for Real’ model. I am sure that other Members will have heard of that, and how, by using a large-scale model of their area made by pupils in their local schools, communities can identify the area’s needs.
I wanted to mention those projects in addition to what had already been said. In conclusion, a Cheann Comhairle, I welcome the debate on the Bain Report and commend David McNarry for tabling the motion and Dominic Bradley for tabling the amendment.
Ms Farrell: I wish to concentrate on the section of the Bain Report that deals with collaboration between schools and the further education sector, to which reference has already been made by Barry McElduff and Ken Robinson. I must declare that I have been a further education teacher for more than 20 years in Newry Institute.
The Bain Report states that collaboration between schools and the further education sector, and a more flexible and less prescriptive curriculum, are the key components in educational arrangements for 14- to 19-year-olds. That will be vital in order to avoid school closures in the post-primary sector, particularly schools that do not have a viable sixth form. Even if a school has a healthy sixth form, collaboration can offer a depth and range of subjects and programmes that a traditional stand-alone school may be unable to offer.
The Bain Report emphasises that collaborative, co-operative arrangements cannot be seen as an alternative to avoiding decisions that must be taken to reorganise Northern Ireland’s post-primary system of sustainable schools. However, the mutual benefits of partnership may militate against some school closures and enhance the opportunities available to students and teachers.
The post-primary review working group, which published the Costello Report, introduced the concept of the “entitlement framework”. That framework was developed to give pupils a broader and more flexible curriculum, so that a blend of courses, including academic and vocational courses, can be offered to meet pupils’ needs, aptitudes and interests. It is anticipated that the entitlement framework will be implemented by September 2009. By that time, pupils at Key Stage 4 should have had at least one third academic provision and one third vocational/technical/professional provision available to them. All courses must be accredited in the national qualifications framework.
The introduction of the entitlement framework is intended to address inequalities of access to educational opportunities, an issue that was debated in the House last week. As was stated across the Chamber, the current educational provision and choices available depend largely on where pupils live and the type and size of the school that they attend. The choices available to pupils after the age of 16, and their access to curriculum entitlement, depend on whether schools have a viable sixth form. Therefore, it is clear that the proper implementation of the entitlement framework will require co-operation and collaboration among schools, and among schools, further education colleges and approved training organisations. That is reinforced by the requirement that at least one third of courses must be of an applied nature and one third must be of an academic nature.
Any collaborative arrangements will require engagement and commitment at a local level. Strong leadership and co-ordination will also be required. The Costello Report urges that, from the outset, all parties involved be equal partners. That has not always been the case; post-primary providers, in particular, are often in competition for numbers rather than putting the individual needs of the child as the central concern.
The Bain Report endorses the Costello Report in calling for a strategic dimension to local planning for curriculum provision and institutional roles. The Bain Report states that it would not be acceptable to have a series of loosely coupled arrangements between individual schools and colleges of further education.
The Bain Report stresses that the quality of courses depends on the quality of teaching, the suitability and use of resources, and the viability of the teaching group. All courses require suitably qualified and experienced teachers, including, for some courses, teachers with appropriate industrial experience.
At this point, I wish to highlight the discrepancy in salaries between schoolteachers and further education lecturers, who are currently taking action in their demand for pay parity with schoolteachers. Although the Bain Report calls for collaboration, co-operation and the sharing of resources, why is it that the best resources that we have — namely, our teachers — are treated differently and unequally? I know of several lecturers in further education who are “lent” from their institute to local grammar schools, teaching A-level subjects that otherwise would not be financially viable for schools to offer. Those lecturers often have industrial backgrounds and, in their own institutions, teach their subjects to Higher National Diploma (HND) or degree level.
They bring their experience and knowledge of their subjects and professional working lives to the classrooms, which can only be of benefit to pupils. Nevertheless, on average, they receive £3,000 a year less — and I stress that that is on average — than the grammar-school teachers in the classrooms next door. Recently, the Secretary of State met further education (FE) lecturers’ representatives. I appeal to Minister Eagle to ensure that, in the interests of fairness and equity, FE employers address this anomaly immediately.
As the House proposes new and innovative arrangements for post-primary education, and urges collaboration and equity among providers, the injustice of the pay gap between schoolteachers and FE teachers must be addressed as a priority. If — and I hope that this is not the case — the matter is not resolved before a devolved Government is established, I call on the incoming Assembly to deal urgently with this unfair anomaly.
Some of the courses proposed under the new arrangements require specialist equipment and facilities, meaning that there will be a need to share accommodation and facilities across schools, particularly in further education, and between training providers.
Following the Government’s acceptance of the Costello recommendations, the Department of Education and the Department for Employment and Learning launched a pilot vocational enhancement programme (VEP). VEP involves all the FE colleges working with approximately 190 schools, providing professional and technical courses for more than 14,000 pupils. The pilot is entering its fourth year, and, to date, the evidence shows that there very positive aspects to the collaboration. There are also several obstacles, such as timetabling, pastoral care, and problems with the funding systems across the two sectors.
In preparation for today’s debate, I talked to the head of vocational education in a school involved in the VEP pilot. She told me that seven local schools, from both the maintained and controlled sectors, one FE institute, local employers offering work experience, a training provider and the Youth Service are all involved in her programme. Before the introduction of the programme over three years ago, her pupils studied traditional academic GSCE subjects, with many failing to receive at least a grade C. Pupils were disaffected and underachieving, and this manifested itself in behavioural problems and an increase in school dropout numbers. The teacher told me that several years ago, those pupils would have felt alienated and excluded, even though they were of mixed ability, and that they were often seen as disruptive, problem pupils by teachers and fellow pupils. They were not being offered the educational provision that was right for them.
In Northern Ireland, we have a certain amount of academic snobbery, valuing the academic child and academic courses. Although we should maintain high academic standards, we must begin to value vocational courses and vocational excellence and welcome the opportunity to mix and match the vocational and the academic. My teacher friend told me that there was a great deal of work involved in getting VEP established and that it had had teething problems. However, in her professional judgement, it is proving to be a huge success. It gives pupils excellent CCEA qualifications, a sense of worth, a sense of achievement, and a sense of direction.
Each pupil has an individually tailored learning programme, which can include work experience, time in school, time at an FE institute or a training organisation, and time on educational visits.
The VEP to which I am referring covers a wide variety of areas, including retail, business, travel and tourism, media studies, catering, beauty therapy, hairdressing, childcare, ICT, and the building trades — a number of which the Department for Employment and Learning’s Northern Ireland skills monitoring service has identified as areas in which there is a skills shortage. The motivated students are now working hard, with concrete progression routes in sight, and the school is amazed at the turnaround in pupils’ attitudes and goals, with large numbers going on to further education, valuing themselves and their vocational choices.
My friend told me an interesting story about a particular student whom she saw working with Flash animation during an occupational studies programme. I do not know what that is, and I am sure that many Members do not know either. When she returned to school and asked her colleagues about it, the only teacher who recognised Flash animation was completing a Masters degree in computers.
Bain says that the Education and Training Inspectorate believes that collaboration works best when organisations are not in competition and provision in an area is strategically planned.
Madam Speaker: Your time is up.
Ms Farrell: I commend the motion and the amendment to the House.
Madam Speaker: Before I call the next Member, I remind Members that the use of electronic devices in the Chamber is not permitted, as it interferes with the acoustics. This has been said in the Business Committee, but it does not seem to be getting through.
Mr Shannon: I declare that I am a member of the board of governors at Glastry College.
George Bain’s report makes some 60 recommendations, some obvious, some complex and some cautious. Each region will find both positives and negatives in the report. Consequently, different sections will be highlighted. I would like to highlight a few that relate to my own area, and perhaps to show where the Bain Report has fallen down in that regard.
In the Strangford constituency, there are 39 primary schools, eight secondary schools and one grammar school. Of the primary schools, 12 fall below Bain’s suggested minimum enrolment; eight in rural areas and four Catholic maintained primaries in urban areas. Under the Bain Report, these schools will automatically be reviewed, taking into account the quality of education being delivered, the cost of running the schools and their viability. The wording of the report makes it obvious that the schools should not be closed merely because of their low enrolments; that should serve only as a flag to show whether the school is performing.
I have to say that beneath the surface I fear that the Labour policy of disintegrating the rural community and rural way of life could flourish under the pretext of financial inefficiency and ineffective teaching and learning, rather than the real reason, which is the dislike of the rural community that has been shown so decisively, determinedly and disturbingly by the current Government at any and — almost — every opportunity.
On page seven of the report, Bain refers to demographic trends. Rather than show declining figures for the whole Province, he should be looking at areas such as Strangford, where pupil numbers have risen and levelled off. Why should the area that I represent be subject to the Bain Report when the report’s rationale does not seem to apply to that area?
This is clearly an attack on rural life. Will our small schools, full of character and heritage as well as the provision of sound education, be sacrificed in favour of larger, more impersonal schools in towns and cities? Will the teachers who knew each pupil — and their parents — be a thing of the past as we move full steam ahead into a cosmopolitan way of life where we live mutually exclusive of others, our children not knowing their neighbours?
Will children have the same chances as we did to go to school and university with the friends whom they grew up around the corner from, or will they have acquaintances whom they do not have the time to truly mesh with as they cannot spend time together outside the classroom? These friendships, formed at primary schools and retained through the adolescent years, are an important part of the education process that every child goes through. They should not be sacrificed because children live huge distances apart and their parents are consequently unable to bring them together regularly.
Members will wholeheartedly agree with me that much more worrying and, indeed, costlier in terms of a child’s health is the 25-minute drive to school that will be required if the Bain Report is implemented and the schools are all centralised in cities and towns. We should also take into account the prevalence of childminders and how this is going to affect them. Is it one journey to school or two? Is it different times for different children? All these issues have to be considered.
The combination of after-school activities and quality education cannot be disregarded because children live in the country, and it should not be so easily sacrificed. After-school activities and the formation of friendships are part of growth and development and must be taken into account when assessing the quality of education that a school provides. As vital as basic good teaching and the three Rs are, we cannot forgo the social aspects that define a child as much as academic abilities. The Bain Report takes away a lot of the social interests of children at school.
This is why it must be part of the decision-making process when it comes to the potential closures of rural primary schools. Secondary-school children should be able to stay behind for after-school activities, yet this is not an option for younger primary-school children. Children in rural areas deserve no less a chance to enjoy after-school activities than those in urban areas and should not be discriminated against because of where they live.
We must also ensure that when taking the sizes of schools into account, we take on board the possibility of growth in areas. I refer to demographic trends. With 7,500 houses being earmarked for the Ards Borough Council and Strangford areas, there is potential for growth and for more children, and that has to be taken into account. According to the Bain Report, that is not being considered at the moment.
Some smaller schools in my constituency are located in Killyleagh and Derryboy. Has any consideration been given to Derryboy? What about Killyleagh, where the numbers are almost at the magical 105 and 110?
Derryboy Primary School has just had a large extension completed, and parents want to send their children there, so it must be considered. The Bain Report has not done that, and it concerns me, as it could be replicated throughout the Strangford area — indeed, I suspect, throughout the Ards borough — and I am sure that other Members could give other instances of where it is happening as well. Clearly, where there is a good progressive school with good teaching and potential for growth, it must become part of the decision-making process. In Derryboy, there is a potential development for 30 family homes in the pipeline. They will not be bungalows, which Ken Robinson mentioned as an example of where things went wrong before. They will be family homes, with families living there, and there will be the potential for more children to attend the school.
That small school provides quality education in the academic, practical and sporting areas, and the fact that the enrolment figure is below that in the Bain Report must not be allowed to be used as the deciding factor determining its future. Indeed, a meeting has been arranged for later this week to discuss this with Irene Knox, and that is something that we want to do as well.
Lack of funding should never be a reason for closing a school that is doing its job and giving a superior education to the children who attend it — no matter the size of the school. The Bain Report has made it abundantly clear that there must be radical change to the schooling system with less money being wasted, more use being made of existing facilities, and underperforming schools being changed, but the focus must not be on that aspect alone: we must be able to make decisions.
A while ago, we met with the teachers and members of the board of governors of Dundonald High School. They emphasised the fact that the feeder primary schools are there to ensure that the school attracts the Bain number of about 500 pupils. We must have a policy that enables us to respond quickly, and unfortunately that is not happening in many cases.
Recently, I wrote a letter in relation to Glastry College. I was told that there was going to be new building there. However, we have since been told in a letter from Tom Walsh at the education and library board that there has been a complication since the release of the Bain Report. The Department of Education has said that even projects that had been announced — and Glastry College is one such project — will have to be reviewed. There is something wrong when the future of a school of that size, with over 600 pupils, has to be reviewed because of the Bain Report. The decision has been taken, and surely it is time to move ahead. The land has been identified, and school numbers ensure its long-term viability.
It seems to me that it is clearly the task of the Assembly to decide on the implementation of this report and its recommendations. It has been said that only those who understand the workings of an engine should ever lift the hood of a car never mind fiddle with it. Similarly, only those who understand the rural community and its needs, or those who want to learn about them, should be involved with their workings. The Bain Report has fallen short. There are many things in it that should be done, but it is clearly a matter for the Assembly, and for those who have been elected to it, to implement something, which has the potential to affect drastically the future lives of our children.
Mr Weir: I wish to declare two interests. First, I am a governor of Ballyholme Primary School and of Bloomfield Primary School in Bangor, both of which’s pupil numbers, I hasten to add, are well above the required minimum that is suggested in the Bain Report. I hope, therefore, that I can bring a degree of objectivity to the debate.
Secondly, I am a member — that may be an odd way in which to put it — of the South Eastern Education and Library Board (SEELB), which is currently in suspension.
Mr Shannon: It is in limbo.
Mr Weir: Yes, it is in limbo. A principal reason why the SEELB is suspended is because its political members refused to put up with the draconian cuts that the Department of Education was planning to impose on the board. I am proud to say that we would not accept the level of cutbacks that was being proposed for the most vulnerable in our society. As a result, the board was suspended.
However, the issue is not simply about how that financial situation arose; we must accept a degree of responsibility for what has been happening overall. Although the Department of Education’s failure to support the board led to the crisis, another factor that led to the financial situation in which the board found itself was the falling surpluses and increasing deficits of pupil numbers. That has been the case in all our education and library boards. We must realise that a real problem exists with spare capacity.
Many of the points that have been raised have highlighted that we must treat the issue with a degree of sensitivity. To preserve the status quo is not an option — it is certainly not a cost-free option. The SEELB found that the money that it was losing — for which the board had to pick up the tab — was having a heavy impact on central board budgets.
I assume that the percentages for other boards were similar, but we were spending about 55% to 60% of our budget on special-needs education; therefore, our spending tended to be slightly higher than that of some of the other boards. When money is taken away from a board because of increased deficits in pupil numbers, which happen because of existing problems, the people who will inevitably suffer from budget cutbacks are those with special needs — perhaps the most vulnerable in our society. We must bear that in mind whenever we are examining the report’s findings.
Although I have reservations about the Bain Report, I welcome the fact that we can have this debate. At least we have a report at which to look. Other Members have raised that point. The Department of Education and the boards knew for years that there was a problem with the sustainability of schools, but — to a degree — a blind eye was turned to that problem on many occasions. We are in crisis at present partly because there was failure at a central level to grasp the severity of the problem much earlier. Therefore the opportunity to have a report that looks at sustainability is at least a step forward to some degree.
As my colleague Sammy Wilson said, much in the report highlights some of the problems. My problem with the Bain Report is that it failed to grasp a number of issues. At times, its findings were contradictory. One obvious example of that relates to the level of sustainability of schools, which several Members have mentioned. The report fudges that issue a bit, even though it refers to specific numbers. A key paragraph in the report appears to contradict itself. Paragraph 27 in the executive summary of chapter 7 on effectiveness and efficiency states:
“A clear policy on school sustainability needs to be developed. School sustainability means a number of things but its governing principle should be educational sustainability.”
To put educational sustainability at the heart of school sustainability, only to tie that in later to an arbitrary minimum enrolment figure of 105 pupils for rural primary schools, 140 for non-rural primary schools and 500 for secondary schools, appears to contradict the report’s ethos. As other Members have indicated, when examining the impact that the Bain Report will have, we cannot simply single out the level of draconian cuts that would be applied to communities if the report’s recommendations were implemented. Indeed, we must examine the local circumstances and be imaginative in how we look forward.
A Member who spoke earlier indicated that, in doing so, we must take into account the impact of new leadership when considering educational sustainability. Conlig Primary School in my constituency — one of the schools that is under threat — has been experiencing a decline in pupil numbers for many years. It should have a large catchment area, yet because there has been ineffectual leadership at times — for a long period it had no headmaster — it has witnessed a long-term decline. In the past year, however, a new headmistress has taken over at the school. New proposals have been put forward, and a very proactive group in Conlig is looking to expand the school’s boundaries. According to the Bain Report, if one looked purely at school numbers, the school would not meet the required level of sustainability. However, it is clearly benefiting from the input of new leadership, new thinking and wider reach-out.
Kilcooley Primary School, which will be close to your heart, Madam Speaker, would also be under threat, according to the Bain Report. Based on pupil numbers, it is in decline, yet that school, in addition to its educational position, plays a key role in the community and, in partnership with other organisations, is very much at the heart of the community. Therefore a wider examination of the whole issue must take place.
As has been indicated, several things need to happen to prevent closures. We must concentrate on the idea of area-based planning to ensure that there is proper collaboration between schools. However, that must be done on the basis of all the sectors working together. I must express a particular degree of concern that, faced with the threat of the Bain Report, rather than looking at a much wider level of involvement, CCMS has pulled up the drawbridge in order to protect its sector.
The Bain Report highlights the low numbers in the integrated and Irish-medium sectors but fails to grasp the nettle to take the next step forward and say that, at the very least, all schools should be treated on the basis of equality of opportunity. I was struck by Mr McElduff’s reference to the fact that Sinn Féin is very keen on equality of opportunity. If that is the case, I presume that it will no longer support the policy that allowed Irish-medium schools to be set up with a minimum enrolment of 12 pupils, when other sectors had to adhere to a different policy. Unfortunately, since 1998 —
Mr McElduff: Will the Member give way?
Mr Weir: As time is short, I will not give way.
There must be equality of opportunity — the false favouring of the integrated and Irish-medium sectors should be removed from the system. All schools must be treated equally. I have no objection if any existing school wishes to seek transformation to integrated status, provided that that is the desire of the parents. However, I have a problem with, for example, the integrated sector putting forward a proposal for a new build, which the Minister then takes the politically courageous step of saying no to, only to find out that NICIE has provided funding for it. If we are to tackle the problem of too many schools and too many sectors chasing too few pupils, we should not add to the problem by opening additional schools where the numbers do not demand them.
As Jim Shannon pointed out, we must also provide people with a degree of certainty about the way forward. I have spoken to headmasters from across the sectors who tell me that too often when a ministerial announcement about capital build has been made, they find themselves waiting for additional funds to reach their schools three, four or five years down the line. There must be certainty. The future lies in adopting a more imaginative approach, in having a more locally-based system and in having a schools policy that is properly sustainable. Having criticised the Department for waiting around for this report, which goes only so far, I must say that local input is needed.
Consequently, having not dealt with the problem for many years, we can at least ensure that democratically elected politicians deal with the issue. We should not seek implementation now, but the next Assembly must grasp the issue. I support the motion and the amendment.
Mr D Bradley: We have had a constructive and unified debate today. It helped that all parties agreed with the motion and the amendment. I welcome that unity, because this is an important issue and the House must speak on it with one voice.
I have already commended Mr McNarry for bringing the motion before the House. He spoke of some of the findings of the Subgroup on Schools Admission Policy, one of which was to initiate research around transfer at 14 and to explore the implications of a system such as the Dickson plan and how it might be applied to other areas. Mr McNarry regretted that that research had not been fed into the Bain mix, as it were. If the Department were to set up a group involving various education providers to formulate a sustainable schools policy, it might want to consider adding that research to the mix.
Mr McNarry gave us a detailed statistical analysis of the effects that the Bain proposals might have on schools based on the viability quotas mentioned in the report. He described those effects as staggering. Most Members, especially those from rural areas, would agree with him; there is huge anxiety about quotas.
Sammy Wilson tried to alleviate that anxiety when he called for flexibility in the quotas, and he suggested that they should be adjustable to suit certain local circumstances. He also said that sustainability does not depend on numbers alone, but also on the quality of education provided and the quality of educational leadership in a school. He saw a conflict between the Bain Report’s emphasis on quotas even though it underlined quality of education and leadership as important elements of sustainability.
Mr Wilson also mentioned the huge number of surplus places, which are currently estimated at 50,000 — although there are various interpretations of their accuracy and how they were arrived at — and which are predicted to rise to 80,000 in 10 years’ time. He said that that was an issue that no public representative or administrator could run away from. He agreed with Bain that change must take place slowly rather than be rushed into immediately.
Mr McElduff regretted that his amendment was not accepted. He outlined briefly Sinn Féin’s policy on education, which I will not repeat, and he will forgive me for that. He also mentioned the need to address overprovision in the system. He too was anxious about quotas, and he questioned how they were arrived at.
He also called on the Minister of Education to make a statement on sustainable schools as soon as possible. He outlined the advantages of smaller schools, and he commented that the report is slightly biased in that it does not deal with the positive aspects of smaller schools. He also underlined the need for the rural proofing of any policies arising from the report, and he commended attempts at collaboration in such places as Ballymoney, Omagh and Limavady.
Mrs Long informed us that the Alliance Party was the only party to respond to the consultation on the Bain Report. However, according to my information, parties were not invited to respond, so I hope that she will stand corrected on that issue. I know that my party was very eager to take part in the consultation, as I am sure other parties were.
Mrs Long was concerned that budgetary issues are driving rationalisation and that other important considerations, including the quality of education, are not being given due consideration. She expressed her lack of confidence in the possibility of an early return to devolution, and she said that, in the absence of devolution, direct-rule Ministers have a duty to rule. She disagreed with the Government’s policy of dangling carrots in front of certain political parties — as happened, for example, over academic selection — in order to make progress politically.
Mrs Dodds wanted further information on what was meant by area planning and how it would engage with local communities. She wondered how the proposals in the Bain Report would help to sustain education in local communities.
Mr Ken Robinson said that the report had immense implications and could severely affect rural and urban communities. He referred to the failure of literacy and numeracy policies, and he said that that did not inspire confidence in the ability of the Department or the new skills body to deal with the major issues that will confront us in the future. He was concerned that large swathes of rural and urban areas could be left without local schools.
Mrs O’Rawe supported the amendment, and she called for budgets to support collaboration between schools, but she underlined her belief that parental choice must not be undermined. She talked about community networks that were beneficial to schools and local communities, and she mentioned the case of St Patrick’s High School in Keady.
Ms Farrell concentrated on the implications of the report for further education, and she said that collaboration could offer a breadth of choice that a normal stand-alone school cannot. She also told us that the entitlement framework could not be delivered without engagement and commitment to co-operation between schools and further education colleges. She also mentioned the need for quality teaching courses and resources, and she unselfishly highlighted the disparity in pay between further education lecturers and the general teaching population. She said that this disparity is, on average, around £3,000 per annum. She called on an incoming Assembly to deal with that issue.
She also mentioned positive aspects of the vocational enhancement programme and quoted the experience of one co-ordinator who witnessed how the programme engaged pupils who might have felt alienated in a more academic setting. She outlined the range of courses involved and how those courses can help to address the skills deficit in Northern Ireland.
Mr Shannon maintains that many Government policies have demonstrated an anti-rural bias. He sees the Bain proposals as a threat to rural schools and, indeed, to the rural way of life. He expressed his concern that rural children will have to be bussed into towns in order to get an education, and pointed out that that militates against after-school activities for those children. He called for decisions on the future of education to be left to those who are elected to take them.
Peter Weir reminded the House that the status quo is not an option. He mentioned the vulnerability of children with special educational needs.
In conclusion, I underline the sentiments of the amendment and the motion that the matter be deferred until the Assembly is restored and that, in the meantime, the educational providers, in co-operation with the Department of Education, draft a sustainable schools policy to be considered by a restored Assembly. Go raibh míle maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle.
Mr Kennedy: Thank you, Madam Speaker, for the opportunity to conclude this important debate. I feel that I am at a huge disadvantage as Mr Bradley has provided a summary of Members’ speeches. It is rather like being a spectator or eyewitness at an important event — if one assumes that Assembly debates are important events — and discovering through the Hansard report whose speech was the most accurate, who believed what they heard, and what their interpretations were.
The debate was useful. I thank all Members who contributed to it. I thank my colleague Mr McNarry for bringing this important matter to the notice of the House. One of the first questions that he posed was whether the Government would listen to the debate and to the contributions of political parties and individual Members. One hopes that they will, although Assembly Members’ history and experience tells us that we are largely ignored — certainly by the Government if not by the general public. We, therefore, start at a serious disadvantage.
Nonetheless, it is important that the Assembly’s views on the Bain Report are put on record. The motion simply seeks that the Assembly note the recommendations. That is an important clarification. The Assembly will simply examine the report as a work in progress — work that, it is hoped, will be undertaken by a future Assembly and Executive.
Mr McNarry said that there are too many education sectors, which are all competing for a limited share of available finance. More work is required to ensure that the limited amount of money is more equally and fairly spread. That may mean that the number of sectors will be reduced, which is a serious issue for those who are affected. The potential impact on both urban and rural schools of the review that has been advocated by Sir George Bain, and on the long-term sustainability of those schools, must be highlighted as a matter of concern.
I welcome Dominic Bradley’s comments on behalf of the SDLP that the future work of the Assembly or, indeed, any draft sustainable schools initiative should include careful examination of the Dickson plan as a means of progress and, perhaps, of solving the issues of transfer and selection.
Mr Sammy Wilson, who, unfortunately, is not in the Chamber, was careful not to reject the proposals made by Prof Sir George Bain, but simply indicated that these issues must be addressed, that they will require careful consideration, and that things will not happen quickly. Prof Bain has outlined a timetable for the report to be considered. The report will challenge existing structures.
Mr McElduff, who is still in the Chamber, made a contribution that reminded me of what King Charles I is alleged to have said about a person who made a long speech in either the Long or the Rump Parliament; that his speech, like the love of God, was beyond all human understanding. I could not make head or tail of Mr McElduff’s contribution — perhaps that was the design of it. He spoke of changes in education, and said that Prof Bain’s report asked as many questions as it answered. That is also the conclusion that I came to regarding Mr McElduff’s contribution.
Naomi Long took the opportunity to lecture the larger parties — a trait beloved by Alliance Party representatives — and berated us for all manner of failures. At one stage, she even became clairvoyant. That was in the presence of the Assembly’s chief clairvoyant, Lord Morrow, who has considerable achievements in that field. He is the undisputed champion of this Assembly, in my view. Mystic Maurice has yet to pronounce on current events, but no doubt we will hear, as Miss Long of the Alliance Party —
Mr Ford: Mrs Long.
Mr Kennedy: Mrs Long, on behalf of the Alliance Party, seeks to become a worthy successor, or partner perhaps, of the clairvoyant in this House. We wait with interest to see how that will happen. I am reminded of the old music-hall joke: I used to be a clairvoyant, but I gave it up because I could not see any future in it. [Interruption.] They do not get any better.
Diane Dodds made an important contribution. She said that the significance of the Bain recommendations would be in how they impacted on the review of public administration and the creation of the new education authority. In particular, she highlighted the travel costs associated with one sector in one education and library board. The cost of funding the smaller integrated and Irish-language sectors in education made an interesting comparison and raised concerns.
My party colleague, Mr Ken Robinson, made a careful analysis of the situation and rightly highlighted the myth of locally managed schools when staff costs amount to 90% of the budget and allow no flexibility to boards of governors. As I mention boards of governors, it would be unwise, lest the Speaker take action against me, not to indicate my membership of the boards of governors of Bessbrook Primary School and Newry High School — I am trying to avoid the Tower of London.
Ken Robinson said that people’s confidence in the Department of Education was limited, and that there was increased frustration at the lack of joined-up government. Those issues must be addressed in any new Assembly.
Pat O’Rawe is one of the few Sinn Féin Members who, having been deselected by her party, still wants to be associated with party policy, and she may wish to be commended for that. However, it seems that the jury on selection is still out, so that is possibly why she made her contribution today.
Marietta Farrell spoke of the deserving issue of the wage claim and the differentials between schoolteachers and lecturers in further education colleges. She also made some important points about the Costello Report and collaborative arrangements. Barry McElduff mentioned collaboration earlier in the debate, but I am unsure whether he was referring to educational or political collaboration.
Jim Shannon said that Prof George Bain’s report amounted to a curate’s egg: it was good in parts. One suspects that Prof George Bain will produce further leaflets and pamphlets in his future career; perhaps his next will deal with the rural communities that it is no longer safe for him to visit. Jim Shannon seemed to recommend that the best way of addressing any shortfall in school numbers, particularly in the Ards and Strangford area, was to go on an accelerated breeding campaign. The local constituency can look forward to —
Mr S Wilson: All by himself?
Mr Kennedy: How Mr Shannon will seek to achieve that remains unanswered. [Laughter.]
Madam Speaker: Order.
Mr Kennedy: Members will want to read Mr Shannon’s election manifesto with careful interest to see how he will bring this forward. However, a breeding campaign seemed to be the solution that he was most fondly advocating. Mr Weir mentioned the changing patterns in school numbers, and stated that the status quo was not an option. He also said that educational sustainability was the most important issue to consider.
That is a brief summary of what I heard this morning in what was an important debate. Prof Bain made important points, and they are worthy of consideration in the longer term. It is likely that it will be a lengthy transition, and political considerations will impact on whether the recommendations of the Bain Report are looked at by a new Assembly and re-formed Executive or by direct rule Ministers under RPA and the new educational arrangements. The issues at stake are the future management of schools, the potential pooling and sharing of resources, and issues in the urban and rural communities.
The Bain Report is, at best, a starting point, but it will require full and careful consideration and consultation, and I hope that parties here will make a full input to that. In the event that the Assembly survives and we have the opportunity to do the work that we have been elected to do, it will be a mark of Members’ maturity and the maturity of any new Assembly to give practical expression to the report and also retain public support from parents, teachers and pupils.
That is a challenge that faces us all. I hope that Members can rise to it, and I commend the motion to the House.
Question, That the amendment be made, put and agreed to.
Main Question, as amended, put and agreed to.
That this Assembly notes the recommendations made by Professor Sir George Bain in the Report of the Independent Strategic Review of Education and calls on the Minister for Education to defer any decisions on the Report until the Northern Ireland Assembly is restored; and in the meantime, to work with all of the education providers to develop a draft sustainable schools’ policy for consideration by the restored Assembly.
Madam Speaker: I shall give Members a few moments, after which we will move on to the next item of business.
Madam Speaker: Order. The Business Committee has agreed to allow two and a half hours for this debate. The Member moving the motion will have 15 minutes to speak and there will be 15 minutes for the winding-up speech. All other Members who wish to speak will have a maximum of 10 minutes.
Three amendments have been selected and published on the Marshalled List. The amendments will be moved in the order in which they appear on the Marshalled List, which reflects the order in which, if they were agreed to, they would stand in the resolution. When the debate has concluded, I shall put the Question on amendment No 1. If amendment No 1 is made, amendments No 2 and No 3 will fall. If amendment No 1 is not made, I shall put the Question on amendment No 2. If amendment No 2 is made, amendment No 3 will fall. If amendment No 2 is not made, I shall put the Question on amendment No 3.
If that is clear — [Laughter.]Members will understand as we go on. I shall proceed.
Mr Campbell: I beg to move
That this Assembly notes the recent publication by the Equality Commission of its Annual Monitoring Report on the Northern Ireland workforce, and calls on the Commission to investigate trends in recruitment, particularly in the public sector, in order to ensure that the workforce being recruited is a reasonable reflection of the working age population in Northern Ireland.
This debate is on one of the most relevant and important of all aspects of life in Northern Ireland today. The reason that the motion mentions the public sector specifically is that over 60% of our entire workforce is employed in the sector, making it far and away the largest employer in the country. I hope that this debate does not turn into various declarations of under-representation in one part of Northern Ireland being countered by another.
The essence of the motion relates to trends in recruitment, particularly in the public sector. I hope that that will mean that we can avoid repetitive worn out clichés regarding past alleged disparities when there were no equality or fair employment guidelines or legislation — now we have one of the most tightly regulated and monitored workforces in Europe.
If there is under-representation in such a highly regulated regime — and I will demonstrate that there is — serious questions must be asked and changes made to resolve the problem. The Equality Commission is the statutory agency responsible for overseeing that. The Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act 1989 introduced compulsory workforce monitoring, which means that the Equality Commission publishes the annual returns of all public and private sector firms in a document. The current one is entitled ‘Monitoring Report No. 16 A Profile of the Northern Ireland Workforce’.
Some Members have quoted figures for the numbers employed by a particular firm to deflect attention from under-representation — and I note that at least one amendment does so. However, the DUP’s motion draws attention to current recruitment practice.
The SDLP’s amendment also avoids issues relating to recent recruitment. Therefore, the DUP will oppose that amendment, but will support the Ulster Unionist Party’s amendment. The overall workforce includes those who were recruited decades ago, many of whom are about to retire. The Equality Commission keeps defending its abysmal record by using the changing patterns of the working-age population and of the workforce to counter the charges made by those of us who represent a community that feels badly let down by current recruitment practices. The Equality Com-mission frequently mentions that those who have retired from the public sector are predominantly Protestant, whereas the breakdown of those being recruited is more of a mix between Protestants and Catholics. However, that misses the point. No one disputes the religious breakdown of those who are retiring, and no allegations have been made about why that is the case. The core of the matter is what is happening at the entrance to, not the exit from, employment.
Slightly more than 50% of the working-age population in Northern Ireland is Protestant. If there is equality of opportunity and an absence of chill factors, there should be a broadly similar ratio of Protestants being recruited to the public sector across Northern Ireland. That brings me to the security-related sector, which employs more than 17,000 people. There was, and remains, a chill factor that was not created by anything that the employers did, but by what the terrorists did. Intimidation of those who want to join the police is the ultimate chill factor.
The DUP looks forward to when those who used to carry out the intimidation, and much worse, hand over those who are now carrying out acts of intimidation and committing other illegal acts. The number of Roman Catholics who are joining the police force is increasing. However, there would be some such increase even if the state did not discriminate against Protestants to achieve it. The under-representation in the security-related field is the fault of violent republicans, not the State.
Despite intimidation, the recruitment picture for Catholics in the security-related field is improving. On the other hand, the recruitment picture for Protestants in the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) is worsening. The figures that I obtained through Parliament several months ago show that only 34·7% of those recruited to NIHE in the past year were Protestants, which is less than the figure for five years ago. That makes the Equality Commission guilty in the eyes of many Protestants. It, and the agencies that preceded it, have concentrated on addressing areas in which Catholics have been under-represented, but where the figures have been steadily improving. They have not done likewise in areas where Protestants have been under-represented.
That under-representation is getting worse. Republican and nationalist public representatives are also guilty of that charge. They have consistently complained that there is an imbalance in the ranks of the Senior Civil Service. They are right: there is. However, recruitment to the Senior Civil Service is rapidly improving, with more Catholics being employed in that small sector of 200 staff.
(Mr Deputy Speaker [Mr Molloy] in the Chair)
However, in the general grades in that same Civil Service, there is an under-representation of Protestants that is not improving. That is in a sector of 20,000 employees. Those who build a political platform under the banner of equality draw attention to a section of the Civil Service where 200 people are employed and Catholic under-representation is improving, yet studiously ignore another part that employs 100 times more people and where Protestant under-representation is getting worse. Those people still maintain the banner of equality over their platform. The word “hypocrisy” is best used to describe that platform.
There are a number of other areas, such as the Child Support Agency and a plethora of localised problem areas, where similar situations prevail. Of course, the ineffective and inactive Equality Commission hovers in the background. I do not wish to pursue localised problems at this juncture, although I hope that there will be another opportunity for us to do so in a future debate, if the matter is not resolved in the interim.
The Equality Commission must begin to establish the trends that are occurring in recruitment, report them to Government and put them in the public domain. The commission must then outline an ongoing plan to deal with any significant under-representation that it has uncovered. I hope that all democrats agree that, if there are varying degrees of under-representation, the area where under-representation is getting worse should be tackled before concentrating on the area where under-representation is improving. Logic would seem to drive us to that conclusion.
The facts, and the Equality Commission’s plans to finally deal with those problem areas, should be put in the public domain. Some of us have been highlighting the problems for more than 20 years. The situation has not arisen overnight; it has been in the public domain since the late 1970s, yet the Equality Commission does not seem to want to deal with the facts as it finds them as much as some of us who elaborate on them.
Once the facts and the Equality Commission’s plans to deal with the problems are in the public domain, the wider community can begin to have confidence that the merit principle and equity will be the guiding lights to careers, particularly in the public sector — not the officially sponsored discrimination that currently exists in the police and the unofficial disadvantage in the areas that I have outlined. Those guiding lights will provide the basis on which a public sector in which everyone can have confidence can be built, and to which people in every section of our community believe that they can apply and be confident that they will be recruited on merit.
Mrs D Kelly: I beg to move amendment No 1: Leave out from “calls” to “order” and insert:
“welcomes its continuing analysis of trends in recruitment and its work”.
Complaints of religious discrimination in employment, alongside issues such as housing, electoral arrangements and policing, were a recurring theme during the devolved Government at Stormont from 1921 to 1972. It was on many of those issues, and the principles therein, that the SDLP was formed and on which it has fought for equality to be embedded in society over the past 30 years. The SDLP is not embarrassed by equality, but believes in equality for all.
The SDLP welcomes the work of the Equality Commission. Its 2005 monitoring report showed the extent of progress since effective fair employment laws were introduced in the North in 1989 — 21 years after the civil rights movement highlighted systemic discrimination. Thanks to effective fair employment laws and many other reforms, the Catholic share of the monitored workforce is 43%, but a gap still remains, with the Catholic share of the economically active estimated at 45·4% in 2004.
The work of our fair employment laws is not yet finished. Despite progress, we have still not closed the gap between what is and what ought to be. Catholics are still more likely to experience unemployment, with the 2001 census putting that figure at 1·7 times more likely. However, that is an improvement on 1971, when Catholics were 2·5 times more likely to be unemployed. Thankfully, unemployment is reaching record lows. However, that differential must be taken seriously, and the commitment made in the Good Friday Agreement to its elimination must be honoured.
There are serious differentials in economic inactivity, as well as unemployment. Catholics are more likely to be economically inactive — a particular concern when one considers the findings of an excellent report by the Committee on the Administration of Justice that found that there were far more people who were economically inactive, but who would like to work, than there were people who were unemployed.
The gap between what is and what ought to be has not yet been closed. We should not pretend that equality laws alone can close that gap. Tackling differentials in unemployment and economic inactivity requires clear and coherent socio-economic strategies, of which the direct-rule Administration has none.
TSN was the Government’s policy for explicitly reducing differentials, and New TSN retained a heavy emphasis on that effort. However, the Government’s new anti-poverty strategy barely touches on that matter. The Government have no strategy papers on how they intend to realise their commitment to eliminate differentials, as set out in the agreement, and that is another reason for ending direct rule.
Thankfully, the Equality Commission is not so lax and has done good work in its area of responsibility, which is ensuring fair participation in the workforce. The public and private sectors have changed remarkably since the 1980s; both are now far more reflective of the community as a whole in the North. However, more must be done.
Catholics comprise over 30% of the Senior Civil Service — not 5%, as it was in 1985 — but that figure is a long way from where it should be. The same problem appears at higher levels in the Civil Service, excluding the Senior Civil Service, even in areas where Catholics are over-represented at lower levels, such as health and education. Catholics remain seriously under-represented in security occupations — at only 12·5%. While the PSNI is making fast progress, other areas such as the Prison Service, which remains almost 90% Protestant, have made none at all.
Mr Campbell referred to the Police Service and the impact of terrorist activity in the past. Nuala O’Loan’s report on the investigation into the death of Raymond McCord was published today, and I did not see any unionist representation at its launch. That shows why many Catholics did not join the police.
Lord Morrow: On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker, what is the relevance of Mrs Kelly’s last point to today’s discussion? That goes over my head. The Member should keep to the motion.
Mr Deputy Speaker: I do not accept that that was a point of order. However, I am sure that Mrs Kelly will elaborate.
Mrs D Kelly: I did not introduce the issue of why Catholics did not join the RUC. That was the Member who spoke previously, Mr Campbell.
There is an emerging under-representation of Protestants in some parts of the public sector — especially in health and education — and that must also be tackled. The DUP’s motion singles out the public sector. However, future growth will be in the private sector, where Catholics are less well represented. People working in areas such as health and education face voluntary redundancies and are threatened with potential lay-offs as a result of the review of public administration.
That is not to say that under-representation of Protestants in those areas is not serious. However, it would be wrong to single out the public sector and to exclude under-representation of Catholics in many private sector areas.
It is also wrong to suggest that the Equality Commission is not already working on fair participation in the public sector. That is why the SDLP is proposing the amendment; I hope that the DUP will accept it and realise the good work being done by the Equality Commission, instead of occasionally bashing them. Mr Deputy Speaker, I move the amendment.
Mr Nesbitt: I beg to move amendment No 2: Leave out all after “recruitment” and insert:
“, both for a substantial period in the public sector and recently in the private sector, in order to establish if appointments have favoured one section of the community and, if necessary, to take and/or recommend appropriate action.”
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I also thank Mr Campbell for accepting the amendment as a composite motion. He complements much of what I have to say.
Page 1, paragraph 3 of the Agreement reached at St Andrews between the two Governments states a commitment:
“for equality and human rights at the heart of the new dispensation in Northern Ireland.”
I often hear Sinn Féin, SDLP and those from the nationalist community referring to the importance of equality. Well, there is a little bit of history surrounding today’s topic of monitoring. One has to go back to the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act 1989 to see where the monitoring came from. It came from the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights (SACHR) report of 1987, which said that if there were a belief that there was discrimination, there should be monitoring of applicants or people seeking jobs and monitoring of the overall employment proportion.
That is where the monitoring actually came from: a belief in discrimination. Indeed, not satisfied that discrimination was gone in a sense, the SACHR report of 1997 further proposed more strenuous measures, indeed the strongest in Europe, for any legislative basis for equality.
Indeed, the SACHR report charged the then Fair Employment Commission to draw up benchmarks for the reduction in the unemployment differential to be dealt with. Dolores has mentioned the unemployment differential; that was brought up eight years ago.
So there is the derivation of all the law — 1989 and 1997. When we look at the Equality Commission in the context of those monitoring reports, we see that it has a clear legislative obligation to do what it has not done. It has ducked and weaved and avoided certain responsibilities, as Mr Campbell said.
Schedule 8 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 makes it very clear that the Commission is to have accounts. Those accounts are to include a financial memorandum, which is to include a corporate plan containing measures of performance in achieving its objectives.
Furthermore, schedule 9 of the 1998 Act said that it should be effectively reviewing section 75 of that Act. Article 8 of the Fair Employment and Treatment (Northern Ireland) Order 1998, said that it should, as it were, disseminate information about what it was about.
There is a clear legislative responsibility for the Equality Commission to address what is viewed as the central concerns: combating discrimination and providing equality of opportunity. That should be measured by the Equality Commission. The fundamental question is: has it been addressing those concerns? One looks at the monitoring returns, and that narrative really gives the facts in another guise. We get the overall position, but the issues that are seemingly pointed up as a problem are not addressed.
Even the unemployment differential that the SDLP person has just mentioned: eight years ago benchmarks were to be drawn up — none have been drawn up. I note that in the return he forwarded to the latest monitoring round, the Chief Commissioner said that the unemployment differential “is or could be” a measure of the lack of equality of opportunity. He is raising the old chestnut again about the unemployment differential, which we may come back to.
Then there was a fair employment report in May 2004; again the Equality Commission ducked the issue on certain aspects that are in the motion. A group of Scottish economists, DTZ Pieda Consulting, was paid £110,000 to deal with issues of equality of opportunity.
On behalf of my party, I made a strong representation to that group. We met for five hours. However, I noticed that in their report the issue addressed by Mr Campbell’s motion had been avoided again. I was misled by the Government on that issue.
Look at the annual report of the Equality Commission for 2004-05, released in February 2006. One reads on page 28 that one of the key strategic objectives of the commission is:
“to combat discrimination and to promote equality of opportunity”.
However, in the body of the report there is no indication as to whether discrimination has been combated. The statistics that are available are not used to assess that issue.
The commission’s latest report was produced in November 2006. It might be called the “traffic light” report. It is good; I commend it. Against each performance measure it has a green, amber or red light: green if the target has been met, amber if it has been partially met and red if it has not been met at all. Where does the first red light come up as you flick through the book? It comes up at the statement that the Equality Commission has not been able to establish new performance measures to determine whether there has been discrimination or equality of opportunity.
That brings me to the commission’s annual monitoring report. It is important to take note of the data. The report states that the proportion of Roman Catholic appointees is greater than the Roman Catholic proportion of the employee workforce — as it should be. However, it is cautious about the fundamental point that I wish to address: comparing the proportion of applicants with the proportion of appointees. The Equality Commission, the Government, the research agencies and anything else that I have had contact with resolutely refuse to address that. It is the elephant in the room that is being ignored.
The commission says that caution is required because there is overlap between applicants and appointees. One might apply for a job this year, but not be appointed until next year. However, even if that applies to a large amount of people, the point is not statistically relevant.
The problem is that we have a lot of legislation and much rhetoric as to whether there is equality of opportunity or discrimination. In the debate last week there was much talk of disadvantage. Research shows that a key indicator of disadvantage is whether the subject has a job. An important way of getting work is to apply for a job and be successful. However, if you apply, are you appointed?
Comparing the number of applicants with the number of appointments is fundamental to determining whether there is equality of opportunity, yet it is not done. Members who sat on the Committee on the Preparation for Government know that I have put before the SDLP and Sinn Féin a document that explains that. I have asked to meet them, but I have still to receive a response.
The data shows that, generally speaking, for eight out of the past 10 years, a greater proportion of Roman Catholics were appointed in the public sector than one might expect from the number of applicants. That can be demonstrated statistically, using a model provided by the Civil Service. Even more striking and important is the fact that, in the past two years, the private sector has also seen a greater proportion of Catholics appointed than one might expect. In other words there is a clear trend.
I do not say that there is discrimination. Indeed, the answer might be that the Catholics are better qualified than the Protestants and should, therefore, get the jobs. However, where trends are identified in data, they should be examined. Over eight of the past 10 years in the public sector, and over the past two years in the private sector, the trends show that more Catholics have been appointed than would have been expected. In other words, there is a favourable disposition towards one side of the community as compared with another. My amendment seeks to address that situation — and nothing more than that.
Ms Ruane: I beg to move amendment No 3: Leave out from “particulary” to “sector” and insert:
“and overall composition across all levels and grades in both the public and private sectors”
Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Tá mé ag dul a labhairt ar son an leasaithe.
Ar dtús báire, gabhaim buíochas leis an DUP as ucht an díospóireacht thábhachtach seo a thabhairt chun tosaigh: déileálann sí ní amháin leis an chomhionannas ach leis an Choimisiún Comhionannais.
B’fhéidir go gcloisfimid ón DUP i rith dhíospóireacht an lae inniu tiomantas — nó rún fiú amháin — cumhacht a roinnt le náisiúnaithe agus le poblachtanaigh ar bhonn comhionannais. B’fhéidir go gcloisfimid aontachtaithe ag admháil gur cuireadh na sé Chontae ar bun mar stát Prostastúnach do mhuintir Phrotastúnach agus gur cothaíodh an stát sin trí leatrom córasch i gcoinne Caitliceach, agus go háirithe i gcoinne náisiúnaithe.
I thank the Members opposite for the equality that they have shown to the native language of Ireland. [Interruption.] Does the Member wish to make a point?
Rev Dr Ian Paisley: It is already made.
Ms Ruane: I thank the DUP for tabling the motion on equality and the Equality Commission. Perhaps during the course of the debate we will hear a commitment and an intention from the DUP to share power with nationalists and republicans on the basis of equality. Perhaps we will hear an acceptance and an acknowledgement from unionists that the Six Counties were developed as a Protestant state for a Protestant people; that they were built and maintained by systematic discrimination against Catholics —
Mr Nesbitt: May I make a point of order?
Mr Deputy Speaker: Order. A number of requests have been made to Madam Speaker in relation to order in the Chamber when Members are speaking, and particularly when female Members are speaking. Everyone will have an opportunity to contribute to the debate, and all are entitled to be listened to. I ask Members to listen to the speeches and make their comments while maintaining good order in the Chamber.
Ms Ruane: Perhaps we will reach agreement on a comprehensive anti-poverty strategy that targets resources and intervenes positively and proactively for the most vulnerable in society, based on objective need, and objective need alone. Then again, perhaps anti-agreement unionism is still unable and unwilling to accept responsibility for discrimination.
We all need to show political leadership, and that means empowering communities — all communities, whether they are working-class communities on the Shankill, the Falls, Derry, Downpatrick or Kilkeel. However, my concern about the narrowness of the DUP’s motion is not that they have been converted to the equality agenda, or, indeed, to any belief in the need for greater resources and powers for the Equality Commission. My concern is that the motivation for the narrowness of the motion is sectarian in itself.
Mr Storey: If the party opposite is so concerned about equality and has become converted to it, will the Member tell the House what equality there was in the murderous campaign that the IRA, in its 2005 statement, said was entirely legitimate? A Member from her party said that the murder of Jean McConville was not a criminal act. Where was the equality in those instances?
Ms Ruane: I was going to say that we had started a direct dialogue, but I will continue with the debate. [Interruption.]
Mr Hay: Answer the question.
Ms Ruane: It is part of a broader attempt to turn the situation on its head.
It is also a rejection of the unemployment differential, which highlights the deep-seated and ongoing employment differences that exist between the communities. That statistic has remained pretty much unchanged, despite decades of fair employment legislation.
However, in order to ensure equality, it is necessary that a fuller investigation takes place, not just of all levels and grades of the public sector, but of the overall composition of the private-sector workforce. That should include an investigation of its recruitment process, promotions and salaries. It is important that we investigate and analyse more deeply all sectors instead of concentrating on recruitment. That will enable us to identify the problems clearly, and, hopefully, we can respond proactively to tackle them.
Child poverty was mentioned earlier, but I thank Sammy Wilson for giving us some particularly important information on it — go raibh maith agat, a Shammy; maith thú. A parliamentary question that Sammy Wilson asked revealed that, in the North, in the year ending 2005, 40,800 Protestant children, 60,600 Catholic children and 5,900 children from other religious backgrounds were experiencing poverty. Those figures add up to over 100,000 children. It is interesting to note that in 2004, comparable statistics revealed that 41,300 Protestant children, 58,500 Catholic children and 5,100 children from other religious backgrounds were experiencing poverty. Therefore in 2004-05 the number of Protestant children who were experiencing poverty decreased while there was an increase in the number of Catholic children and those from other religious backgrounds who were living with poverty. No one should want to play politics with poverty, not least with child poverty. That is the reason that it is valid to argue for a wider, proper and non-sectarian investigation into the composition of the workforce.
Sinn Féin welcomes the reduction in poverty that Protestant children have experienced. No child should live in poverty. Our job is to eradicate it from this island for good. We need to eradicate poverty from the life of every child, not just some children. Indeed, if the Members on the opposite Benches reject this amendment, on some level that is tantamount to their saying that, as unionists, they are afraid to share power that is based on equality. Sinn Féin has been at the forefront of the challenge to eradicate all forms of discrimination since the foundation of the Northern statelet. The days when Catholics were denied the right to vote, to housing and to employment are over. There can be no more second-class citizens. I know that some unionists in the Chamber want to use the politics of fear against their own people. However, I make it clear that Sinn Féin and republicans have no desire to do to unionists what the unionist establishment did to us.
Although people’s lives have changed — [Interruption.]
Mr Deputy Speaker: Order.
Ms Ruane: Although people’s lives have changed as a result of the peace process, there is still a considerable distance to travel and a number of barriers to overcome before equality can be achieved. At the heart of Sinn Féin’s commitment to equality is the belief that poverty, discrimination and marginalisation must be challenged and eradicated. That is why we put an effective anti-poverty strategy that is based on objective need at the heart of our recent negotiations in St Andrews. The problem of discrimination against Irish nationalists and Catholics in the North of Ireland has not gone away. It demands affirmative action. Disadvantage must be identified, and resources must be directed to reduce it that so that people experience equality. There must also be recognition of the fact that particular groups suffer as a result of structural and endemic inequalities that arise as a result of the nature of their society.
The benchmark of the success of anti-discrimination legislation is the difference that it makes to people’s lives. We are a long way from achieving an end to the discrimination from which many sectors of our society suffer; we are a long way from achieving equality of opportunity and outcome. In essence, the problem still remains: the Northern state was founded on and maintained by inequality and discrimination. More than 35 years after the civil rights movement launched its campaign to highlight the nature of the state’s structural discrimination in housing, voting and jobs, those issues remain at the core of sustained inequalities, which, in the main, continue to detrimentally affect the nationalist community.
Thirty-five years on, according to the latest statistics, nationalists are more likely to suffer from poverty; less likely to be in employment; more likely to be unemployed; more likely to be among the long-term unemployed; at greater risk of living in lower-income households; and at greater risk of experiencing multiple deprivation. There are a greater number of Catholics on housing waiting lists, and Catholics — [Interruption.]
There is no need to be a misogynist. Equality for women is part of the equality agenda; perhaps it would be good for the DUP to learn that.
Catholics will also spend on average one and a half times as long on the housing list as Protestants.
We just need to look at high-level strategies and inward investment. In key areas of Government policy, the failure to make equality the benchmark means that inequality continues. There is a great imbalance in assistance within Belfast, west of the Bann and in border areas.
Mr Deputy Speaker: Please draw your remarks to a close.
Ms Ruane: Over the past few months, I have listened to excuse after excuse about how high-level policies cannot be equality-impact assessed and been told in the most patronising way that the programmes that come out of the strategies are equality-impact assessed. Frankly, we find that insulting. Let us test the DUP’s new-found selective concern about equality.
Mr Deputy Speaker: Time is up. I am sorry about all of those interruptions, but that is the situation.
Rev Dr Ian Paisley: On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I was rather surprised at the remarks you made about the House not giving fair play to females. As the leader of the largest party in the House, I would like to know who made that objection and where the evidence is for it.
Mr Deputy Speaker: A number of the Whips, including from the Member’s party, put forward objections to the Speaker about order in the Chamber. Madam Speaker asked for co-operation from the Whips to ensure that there would be good order and proper decorum in relation to Members speaking in the Chamber.
Lord Morrow: Further to that point of order. When I brought this matter to the attention of the House, I was referring to the fact that Members opposite were on their feet when Madam Speaker was addressing the House. As a matter of fact, the point raised this morning related to Mr McElduff — who was never a female Member. I repudiate the idea that there are constant attacks whenever female Members are speaking.
Mr Deputy Speaker: The matter discussed by the Business Committee related to all Members, and to female Members in particular, who tend to come under particular attack from some Members in the Chamber. Good order in the Chamber applies to all Members.
Mr Campbell: Further to that point of order. Is it not the case in this debate that the only Members who have spoken against the motion have been female? No male Members have been speaking against the motion so far.
Ms Ruane: That does not make it right.
Mr Campbell: So it is OK to barrack males and not females?
Mr Deputy Speaker: Order. Members from all parties will be speaking in the debate. I ask for respect for all Members, regardless of which party they come from or whether they are male or female.
Rev Dr Ian Paisley: Further to that point of order. As the matter was discussed outside the House, will the Deputy Speaker talk to Madam Speaker and ask her to inform Members as to what took place? Members are entitled to be informed about the matter in the House, not when some other Member does not like the asides that are being made to her.
Mr Deputy Speaker: The matter will be discussed through the usual channels. The Business Committee will discuss the matter further tomorrow or on Wednesday.
Mrs Foster: I look forward to having the same protection that you afforded to the Member who has just finished her speech, Mr Deputy Speaker. I find it very difficult to take lectures from Sinn Féin about equality, when, at the age of eight, I was forced out of my home by republican terrorism. We have heard a lot today about a Protestant state for a Protestant people. Of course, that is contextualised by the fact that at the same time there was a Catholic state for a Catholic people in the Republic of Ireland, and we know from our Protestant colleagues across the border what they suffered throughout the years.
I want to respond to a point that was made by the SDLP Member for Upper Bann. She told the House that 45% of the workforce is Roman Catholic, and I take her word for that. However, perhaps she could explain why, in the past year, 51·8% of those appointed to the Northern Ireland Civil Service were Roman Catholics, along with 49·3% to the Child Support Agency and 55·3% to the Housing Executive? Those are startling figures, which indicate to me that there are huge difficulties in this area, especially in relation to the Equality Commission.
Although this is a separate issue, this point must go on record: the Equality Commission takes on cases and drops them at the last hurdle. Many people who come to our offices have had cases taken up by the Equality Commission and have been left hanging at the end of the process.
Some Members have referred to public sector bodies west of the Bann. I only wish that they would look at the statistics for Protestants in those bodies. They would see that the numbers are at a low ebb, especially in the health sector.
Recently, a number of my constituents have come to me for advice on systematic harassment and bullying in a public body west of the Bann. If they take their concerns through the appropriate channels, the bully boys in that organisation target them even more on a sectarian basis. Several of my colleagues have been approached by their constituents also. Indeed, some of those who have come to us have suffered ill health, and, unfortunately, in one case, a gentleman endured a breakdown.
Where should these people go? They are not listened to internally by the public body or, indeed, by the Equality Commission, and the reason given is that they need witnesses. Often, however, discrimination is insidious and hidden and carried out purposely when no one else is around. When one person complains, I take notice. When two people come to me from the same public authority, I wonder whether something is going on. However, when 10 people come to my office, with complaints of harassment and bullying about one Government agency based in one area, I have to say: “res ipsa loquitur” — the facts speak for themselves.
In cases such as this, the composite nature of the complaints should start alarm bells ringing in Government and, especially, in the Equality Commission, which has a statutory duty to promote good relations. Even if the Equality Commission does not accept the cases that I have mentioned as being discrimination, it has a statutory function to promote good relations and it is not doing so. In addition, the monitoring returns that go to the Equality Commission do not show why people leave employment. Quite a few people, I would say, leave employment because they are pushed out.
Over the past year, while looking into this issue, I have seen many equality strategies. However, if they are not implemented throughout that organisation, they are not worth the paper on which they are written. Indeed, many cases that have been brought to me state that the job criteria were written to favour one person in particular, and there is nothing that Protestants can do about that when they do not get the jobs.
I want to end by referring to the comments — and I have a right to respond to comments — that the SDLP Member for Upper Bann made about “the former RUC”, as she called it. She made sweeping remarks about collusion. Of course, the SDLP would say that collusion took place: Nuala O’Loan has said that it did, and anything that she has to say is all right.
The SDLP Member for Upper Bann has perpetuated the nationalist myth of systemic collusion. If there is evidence about individual officers committing illegal acts, let us have their names; let us have them prosecuted. Members should be certain that the RUC officers who worked tirelessly over the years do not wish the name of the RUC to be brought down to the gutter by the actions of a couple of officers. If their names are known, let us have them. However, she does not have an evidential basis for making those remarks. They are allegations, and she should acknowledge that.
Some Members: Hear, hear.
Ms Stanton: A LeasCheann Comhairle, I support amendment No 3. Its purpose is to ensure, first, that investigation into employment trends is not restricted to the public sector but includes the private sector, and, secondly, that monitoring considers overall staff composition not only at recruitment stage but takes account of promotions and salaries.
The sixteenth Fair Employment Monitoring Report’s analysis of monitoring returns submitted by 121 public bodies and 4,117 private-sector employers found that the monitored workforce totalled almost 518,000 in 2005. That is an increase of 22,000 from 2004. The composition of the monitored workforce was 57% Protestant and 43% Catholic. The number of Protestant and Catholic employees increased overall, with an increase of 0·7% in the Roman Catholic share of the monitored workforce. Private-sector employment levels rose by 5·2% during 2005.
From statistical evidence that has been produced over the years, we all know that the continuing decline in the manufacturing industry has affected Protestants notably. Evidence also shows that public-sector employment rose by 3·2% and that the Catholic share in that sector grew by 0·7%. The part-time workforce increased by 7·2%, and females accounted for 51·8% of all monitored employees. A comparison of the same sections of the monitored workforce in 1990 and 2005 shows that the Catholic share has increased by a mere 7·3%.
Looking at the public sector alone, its recruitment stage is working reasonably well, but many problems remain with its composition, largely as a result of the legacy of previous practices. For example, the latest monitoring report shows that only 9·5% of staff in Castlereagh Borough Council are Catholic.
It is strange that the DUP focuses on recruitment in the public sector, given that, of 24,557 public-sector appointments that were made in 2005, there was a fall of 5·5% on the figures for 2004. The number of Protestant appointees dropped by 6%, while the number of Catholic appointees dropped by 6·7%. Those factors led to an increase of 0·1% in the Protestant share of public-sector appointments to 50·2% overall.
Between 2004 and 2005, overall full-time public-sector employment rose by 2·5% from 156,841 to 160,737, which is an increase of 3,896 employees. That new total consists of 86,669 Protestants, 66,273 Catholics and 7,795 employees of non-determined community. The community composition of full-time public-sector employees, excluding those who were non-determined, was 56·7% Protestant and 43·3% Roman Catholic. In 1990, Roman Catholic full-time representation was 35·3%.
The public sector comprises five main sectors: health, which employs 34·9% of all public-sector full-time employees; the Civil Service, which employs 25·6%; the education sector employs 14%; security-related employment accounts for 10·2%; and district councils employ 5·7%. Sinn Féin wants a broader investigation that will consider all sectors, not only the public sector and recruitment. Such an overall investigation should include promotions, for example.
In the private sector, only those companies with 251 or more employees are monitored for promotion statistics. A total of 3,530 monitored employees were promoted in 2005, representing an increase of 13·7% on 2004. Of those, 57·2% were Protestant and 42·8% were Catholic. In the overall workforce, there was a net rise of 2·4% in the number of monitored Protestant employees; among Roman Catholics, the net increase was 5·5%. Combined, those factors produce a 0·7% increase in the Roman Catholic share from 42·3% in 2004 to 43% in 2005.
I support amendment No 3, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle.
Mr O’Dowd: Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle.
I was expecting a few more contributions before my own, but I accept that as there are several amendments, three or four people will be making winding-up speeches, so time is short.
The proposer of the motion started his contribution to the debate by saying — and I paraphrase — that he hoped that the debate would not turn into a counter-argument on discrimination, that parties would not fight their own corners or throw figures back and forth at one another about who was discriminated against. Lo and behold, he then entered into a raft of allegations of discrimination against the Protestant community.
Lord Morrow: Are they not true?
Mr O’Dowd: I am not denying that any of the allegations are true. I am saying that perhaps the debate today should be about whether we can agree that discrimination is wrong, regardless of what quarter it comes from. The DUP and the Ulster Unionist Party will have to remember that they opposed every piece of legislation that was fought for down the years, largely by the nationalist community.
At one stage, youse claimed that discrimination did not take place in this part of Ireland — but you meant that discrimination against the nationalist community did not take place. Now you have realised that there may be some discrimination against the Protestant community, and you are demanding that that be rectified. Youse are absolutely right, but where youse miss out on your argument is —
Mr N Dodds: On a point of order. Every time that the Member refers to “you” and, as he puts it, “youse”, he is of course referring to the Chair. I do not know whether the Chair agrees with his allegations. Certainly, however, the Member should be corrected.
Mr Deputy Speaker: I remind the Member to address his remarks through the Chair.
Mr O’Dowd: I am always keen to learn something from Nigel Dodds. His opinion is always of value to me, as I am sure it is to the DUP executive.
Those on the Benches opposite, and their forefathers etc, opposed all anti-discrimination legislation and continued to do so right up until this summer in the Preparation for Government Committee. When that Committee was discussing equality, discrimination, etc, Sinn Féin put forward several proposals to enhance the powers of the Equality Commission, which may have actually helped in relation to the cases Arlene Foster mentioned earlier. Each proposal was met with a resounding no from the DUP. How does the DUP propose to ensure that discrimination, no matter by whom, and upon whom, it is inflicted, is eradicated? As each demand comes forward from those involved in equality and anti-discrimination work, the DUP says no. I know that it is the party’s favourite word, but if it wants to end discrimination, it must adopt those measures. Sinn Féin — [Interruption.]
I am coming to policing, trust me. [Laughter.]I would not have risen, a LeasCheann Comhairle, if I was not going to speak about it. Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle.
Last week, in the Chamber, we debated under-attainment in education, and some Members opposite referred to statistics, such as 27% of young Protestant males leaving school without any qualifications — or perhaps with only one. If Gregory Campbell’s figures are correct for people entering the public sector, they speak volumes about why we cannot ensure that young Protestant people are coming up through public organisations. That day, some Members from the Benches opposite referred to the need for an independent report into why that was the case. Surely this is again an example of why we need an independent report.
Sinn Féin is prepared to work with the DUP and the other parties in the Chamber to eradicate discrimination from the face of society. Everyone should have the right to go forward and earn a living in their respective places of work. There is no point in simply saying no to every amendment or proposal that a political party makes to enhance the powers of the Equality Commission, the setting up of which the DUP also opposed. It opposed section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 too.
No matter how many times we have explained that section 75 and the equality legislation is a double-edged sword and that the DUP should promote its use by its own community, that party still opposes it.
Rev Dr Ian Paisley: The Member is going back into history. During a debate in this House in the old Stormont, it was the Democratic Unionist Party that fought for the Mater Hospital. To come more up to date, in this Assembly, it was the DUP that got a special debate in order that we might put the view that there must be fairness for all and not just for one section of the community. The Member, however, has condemned that and said that we have never done anything of the sort.
Mr O’Dowd: I welcome the contribution from Dr Paisley. I have not at any stage in this debate accused any of the unionist parties of blanket discrimination. What I am saying is that they have always opposed any anti-discrimination measures that have been introduced, from the civil rights movement onwards. I have no doubt that in certain cases there is discrimination against the Protestant and unionist community, and I condemn that. However, if the legislation is not in place to correct that, how do the Members opposite propose that we remove discrimination from society? Proposals put forward by Sinn Féin in the Preparation for Government Committee last summer were met with a resounding no.
In earlier remarks, a LeasCheann Comhairle — and, as this is a winding-up speech, I would like some time to address these points — about policing and the reasons that Catholics did not join the old RUC, the adage came up that they did not join because of armed actions by the IRA. It would be more the case that they did not join the RUC because they had no wish to be associated with their oppressors. If that were taken on board, the reality of the situation would become clear. Nuala O’Loan’s report today outlines why young nationalists and republicans would not wish to be involved.
We have heard from the Benches opposite, a LeasCheann Comhairle, about the need for Sinn Féin to support the structures of law and order. To the best of my knowledge, the Ombudsman’s Office is such a structure, but today every unionist politician who mentioned the publication of the report condemned it as a vindictive campaign by Mrs O’Loan. I would have thought that it would have been the duty of the defenders of law and order on the opposite Benches to demand that the truth of the allegations contained in Nuala O’Loan’s report be brought before a judicial system and that those guilty of the heinous crimes referred to in the report be dealt with properly. [Interruption.]
A LeasCheann Comhairle, I hope that they do ask for it. I have been listening to the radio all morning as I was preparing other work, and I have yet to hear any unionist politicians say that. That is why it is so difficult for republicans to take lectures from them on law and order; they are not qualified to give the lecture.
Rev Dr Ian Paisley: The Ombudsman admits that she does not have the evidence, yet the hon Gentleman is trying to say that we should be blamed for that. That is not fair play; that is pure acceptance of one person’s statement. Does the hon Gentleman not believe that people who make allegations should be asked to prove them?
Mrs D Kelly: The reason that Mrs O’Loan does not have the full evidence available to her is that the evidence against those who committed crimes was systematically destroyed.
Mr O’Dowd: I am grateful to both Members for their contributions. I hope that Dr Paisley remembers the remarks that he has directed at me in the Chamber. Many allegations have been levelled at Sinn Féin without any evidence. What about those in the RUC and the PSNI who have destroyed evidence and obstructed the course of justice? I am not a lawyer, but I know that there are a number of barristers on the opposite Benches, and, as far as I am aware, obstruction of justice is a crime.
Ms Ruane: Does Dr Paisley support Raymond McCord’s call for an independent inquiry, given the shameful way that he has been treated?
Mr O’Dowd: If we can come out of the Chamber today agreeing on one thing — that we are all opposed to discrimination — the next move is to go forward collectively and put in place proper legislation to remove discrimination.
Mr Nesbitt: I try to base my comments on evidence rather than emotion — on what the data say or do not say. I will comment on what Members have said, primarily those from Sinn Féin and the SDLP.
Mrs Kelly said that the gap between those available to work and those in work is greater than ever. I ask the SDLP spokesperson to read the footnote on page 3 of the Equality Commission’s ‘Fair Employment Monitoring Report No. 16 - A Profile of the Northern Ireland Workforce’, which states clearly that such comparisons cannot be made. They are not made on the same basis. If one is to make any comparison at all, it is between long-term trends, and we find that Government policy has had no effect on those gaps.
Mrs Kelly said, as did Ms Ruane, that we are singling out the public sector. However, my amendment to the DUP motion includes both the private and public sectors.
Caitríona Ruane spoke about a Protestant Parliament for a Protestant People. I noted Arlene Foster’s remark on the issue, but let me be precise about that quotation. The comment was initially made in Southern Ireland, and when it was made in Northern Ireland it did not include the word “for”. The comment was that just as there was a Catholic Parliament and a Catholic people, there was also a Protestant Parliament and a Protestant people in Northern Ireland.
It should be quoted verbatim in context and not used tritely, misquoted and misrepresented to imply somehow a slight that was not made at the time.
Ms Ruane spoke also about the non-acceptance of discrimination, and she said that we had a long way to go. I have never denied that there was discrimination. Evidence shows that there was discrimination on both sides in Northern Ireland; however, I look for evidence of whether it is still present. Ms Ruane said that we are a long way from achieving an end to discrimination. She should look at the Equality Commission’s book ‘Fair Employment in Northern Ireland: A Generation On’, especially the chapter on social mobility. When the figures were subjected to critical path analysis the conclusion was — and the book describes it as one of the most significant conclusions — that there was no direct reference to religion as a factor.
In other words, in 1996-97, religion had no direct bearing on appointments and promotions. Indirect factors could include a person’s father, mother, grandfather, grandmother and number of siblings. The number of siblings affects the years of education, which affects qualifications, which in turn affects whether or not a person can get a job.
Proper analysis does not show that there was discrimination in 1996-97, at the very time when the Secretary of State was talking about combating discrimination. In 1998, legislation was introduced that was stricter than any in Europe.
I do not demur from the legislation; there is a benefit to it in that it ensures that discrimination does not occur. However, let our arguments be based on evidence. Where is the evidence that endemic or systemic discrimination existed when that legislation was introduced in the 1990s? It does not exist.
In the same breath, I do not deny that individual cases of discrimination occur. On average, four to six such cases are brought to tribunal every year on religious grounds by Catholics and Protestants and on grounds of gender. However, those figures should be put in context and the actual evidence of proven discrimination upheld by tribunals should be considered. Members must therefore be careful when saying that achieving the elimination of discrimination is a long way off.
I must also add that, yes, disadvantage exists. I do not doubt that; nor do I doubt that unemployment is a measure of disadvantage. Disadvantage can occur for many reasons. However, disadvantage and discrimination are two entirely different elements in the labour market and should not be confused.
I note Ms Stanton’s points about the fall in the numbers of Protestant applicants and how numbers of Catholic applicants fell further, resulting in a change of 0·7% in the Catholic share of the workforce. That may be true, but it is not the comparison to make. Instead, we should consider that if 40% of applicants are from one section of the community, with other things being equal, one would expect a similar proportion of appointees from that side of the community. However, agencies have refused to examine that issue.
Mr O’Dowd said that unionists opposed every piece of legislation. I do not oppose equality legislation. Mr O’Dowd also said that there was a whole raft of allegations about discrimination against the Protestant community. I assure Mr O’Dowd that I did not use the word “discrimination”. In fact, I was careful to say that the difference between the proportion of applicants and the proportion of appointees does not mean that there is discrimination. The Hansard report will show that I also said that it may be that Catholics are better qualified than Protestants, perhaps because Protestants go abroad for their university education and do not come back.
There are many reasons to explain the disparity between the proportion of applicants and the proportion of appointees. However, I have never said in this Chamber, or in anything that I have written, that this is discrimination, so do not lambaste unionists and say that we go on about discrimination against the Protestant community.
Mr O’Dowd: I certainly would not lambaste any elected representative for going on about discrimination against anyone. My closing remark was that if discrimination exists, let us work together to eradicate it.
Mr Nesbitt: I shall quote the Member’s remarks verbatim. He said that there has been:
“a raft of allegations of discrimination against the Protestant community”. — [Official Report, Bound Volume 21, p383, col 1].
That was the accusation that he levelled at those from this side of the House. I rebut that accusation because there is no evidence that I have ever made such an allegation.
All that we have done, and all that I have tried to do, has been based on evidence. I produced documentation on this issue and invited the SDLP and Sinn Féin to discuss it with me during the summer. My invitation was genuine, but no one responded. I note — and the Hansard report will show — that Sinn Féin said that its representatives were on holiday at the time, but that they would respond on their return. I understand that Caitríona Ruane was on holiday at the time; she has obviously returned, but I have not yet had that dialogue in order to explain my comments on this matter. No response came from either of the two parties sitting to my right.
I make a genuine request: all that I ask is that the apparent disparity between applicants and appointees be examined, so that we can understand why it exists and the Equality Commission can make recommendations or take action to address any disparity. That is not an unreasonable request.
My final comment — and it is very contemporaneous — is that Saturday 20 January 2007 was the closing date for responses to the Council of Europe document on minorities.
The Council of Europe is a body to which we all pay respect. It is the home of the European Convention on Human Rights. The United Kingdom Government were asked for their comments on fair employment in the report, to which they are legally obliged to respond. However, they said that the report has no relevance — yet another example of ducking out of a response. That is my main concern. I ask that the amendment be accepted because I seek a response from the Equality Commission to a genuine trend that must be addressed. Until that happens, the answers to the questions that I have posed will not be known.
Mr Dallat: Mr Deputy Speaker, I have been sitting here for some time trying to get something positive from the debate. Perhaps the fact that the DUP and Sinn Féin talked to each other directly across the Floor was good news, even if it was at some disrespect to you. I am glad that you gave them the latitude to do that. Perhaps that is as much as can be said.
I want to take the opportunity in making my windingup speech to pay tribute to the Equality Commission.
Mr Deputy Speaker: I want to clarify that a Member had asked another Member to give way, and that caused an altercation to ensue between the two parties.
Lord Morrow: I did not intend to show you any disrespect, Mr Deputy Speaker.
Mr Dallat: I am sure that Lord Morrow will forgive me and that behaviour is better in the upper House than it has been here this afternoon. — [Interruption.]
Another Member is showing disrespect to the Deputy Speaker, and he must stop.
I want to pay tribute to the Equality Commission. I will divulge a little personal business. One aspect of the Equality Commission’s work relates to land and property. It is three years since I tried to acquire a constituency office in Limavady. The Equality Commission had to go to court last Thursday in order to get the names of the objectors. On a personal basis, therefore, I know a little about what happens. Indeed, while I was sitting here during the crescendos I had flashbacks to my childhood when my father found it extremely difficult to get steady employment. If it had not been for the building of the M2, which went towards Ballymena rather than Derry, he would not have had any long-term employment at all.
Thanks must be given to those people in the Equality Commission who are responsible for monitoring statistics. That is important. It is true that the number of Catholics who are appointed is slightly higher than the percentage of those who apply. That also takes me back. I have had loads of opportunities to reminisce this afternoon. I bought my first new car with great pride. I bought it on the basis that sales had gone up 300% in the previous year. I then discovered that the number of sales the previous year had been 24, which meant that it had gone up to 72. If there are higher percentages of Catholics achieving employment, it is because they are starting from a low base.
Unemployment differentials can be dealt with by targeting areas of high unemployment. Contrary to some theories, the differential is not some magic constant. It has fallen since 1971. However, it has not fallen quickly enough. If Members are to leave the Chamber next week, I hope that they will go into an election that is based not on naked sectarianism but on a desire and a will to lead this part of Ireland out of the dark ages of the last three decades, and to focus on and promote equality not just between Catholics and Protestants, but between male and female and all other categories.
When the new Assembly is restored on 26 March, I hope that it makes full use of the Equality Commission to ensure that all its decisions are based on the principle of equality. I do not believe that there is anyone out there who would complain about that.
Chill factors that dissuade applications remain, and that may explain why some people are under-represented. From personal experience, that is true in local government, where unionist-controlled councils have been reluctant to carry welcoming statements where there is an under-representation of Catholics. That is disappointing.
Looking positively to the future, each Member has a role to ensure that equality in all its forms is paramount. To do that effectively, we need the Equality Commission. It is needed to monitor trends, identify issues and offer advice and solutions. That poses no threat to anyone. The Equality Commission helps to underpin democracy and is one of the cornerstones of a new society that all sensible people have been crying out for during the past, dark ages.
I make a personal appeal to our unionist colleagues opposite. For God’s sake, stop trying to undermine your own people and telling them that they have failed. Encourage them to stay at home, because that is one way to ensure that representation of the Protestant community becomes higher than it is. The best brains have left. Sensing hopelessness, they have gone to university across the water and have not returned. We need those people to come back to join their Catholic counterparts, and others, to ensure that, once the next couple of weeks are over, we have a new image and a new era in which the tribal remarks that were heard today are a thing of the past. I have confidence that we can do that, and I hope that we are successful.
(Madam Speaker in the Chair)
Mr McCausland: This is a useful debate because equality is an important issue. I am glad that Members have ‘Monitoring Report No. 16: A Profile of the Northern Ireland Workforce (2006)’ from the Equality Commission. The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland’s ‘Annual Report 2005-06’ has also been received. It is only when one has the facts that a situation can be analysed sensibly.
My colleague Gregory Campbell mentioned the public sector. It is important that some time is spent on that. One of the best examples of the public sector is the Housing Executive, which, with 3,532 staff, is a major employer in Northern Ireland. In its workforce, not only are people from the Protestant community under-represented, but when the number of recruits that have been appointed in the past year is examined, the situation is exacerbated. Mr Campbell stated that 34·7% of recruits were Protestant. That is lower than the 47·7% in the current staff. Therefore, over the past year, the situation in the Housing Executive has deteriorated. That is also true for a number of other bodies in the public sector.
Mrs Kelly and Mr John O’Dowd commented on the under-representation of Catholics in the security forces. It is true that there is an under-representation, although that does not seem to have prevented members of Sinn Féin from seeking employment with MI5.
Mr Storey: Spooks, spooks.
Mr McCausland: Yes, they are well qualified for that sort of thing.
Several Members have referred to the main reason for that under-representation. For years, the party that is represented across the Chamber had a military wing that carried out a terrorist campaign against members of those security forces. It is no wonder that people from the community that they represent did not want to join: if they had, they would probably have been murdered.
I am grateful to Dermot Nesbitt for the points that he made about some of the more technical aspects of the equality legislation, how it is implemented and its failures and shortcomings. He is right to say that it is not sufficient to produce reports and facts; we need action.
I am grateful also for his comments about Caitríona Ruane’s repetition. Once again, she talked about a Protestant Parliament for a Protestant people, and she continued by saying that this was a state that was founded on discrimination. I must say that Caitríona Ruane does not disappoint. She will always resort to type and rehearse the traditional republican rhetoric.
I think that I am right to say that Ms Ruane comes from Mayo. If one were to think about discrimination, what county would come more to mind than County Mayo? The Mayo library case has gone down in the history of this island. The case was taken because the entire Mayo community — with the exception of the Protestants — deemed it to be totally inappropriate and impossible to have a member of the Protestant community employed as a librarian there, because she might give out books that would corrupt the good, upright, properly reared Catholic people of County Mayo. In the end, the poor woman had to be removed from her job in Mayo and given a job in a back room somewhere in Dublin, well away from the good people of County Mayo.
I remember listening to Ms Ruane on the radio telling us that she had never known discrimination until she came to Northern Ireland. Obviously, the events in County Mayo, where the political and public communities agreed with the council’s decision not to appoint a Protestant librarian, have slipped her mind. The people in County Mayo even went so far as to say that it would be inappropriate for them to have a Protestant doctor, because he or she might do things and provide services that were inappropriate for the good Catholic people of County Mayo.
Mr Shannon: Do you mean heal people?
Mr Kennedy: Do what things?
Mr McCausland: That would be too much information, I think.
Madam Speaker: Order.
Mr McCausland: It is time that Sinn Féin, nationalists and republicans woke up to the fact that there were serious flaws in the Republic of Ireland.
Some Members: There still are.
Mr McCausland: Indeed there are. However, Sinn Féin, nationalists and republicans can focus only on the constant justification that they seek for their allegations of discrimination in Northern Ireland.
Mr Storey: It seems that the Members opposite are insinuating that discrimination in the Irish Republic is a thing of the past. The Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB) recently published a study entitled ‘Border Protestant Perspectives’. It states that somewhere in the region of 30% to 35% of Protestants in the border counties of the Irish Republic were discriminated against or felt intimidated, and that remains the case.
Mr McCausland: I am grateful to my colleague for those comments. A couple of years ago, I attended a conference in Monaghan where a person from a Catholic background, who is prominent in peace and reconciliation work in that area, told me that closet sectarianism was a big problem down there. He said that it was not out in the open and that it was not necessarily talked about, but he acknowledged that there continued to be closet sectarianism at the heart of that community. Interestingly, it was not I or someone from the Protestant community in the Republic who said that; it was somebody from a Catholic, nationalist background who endorsed what Mr Storey just mentioned.
Arlene Foster mentioned the situation west of the Bann, and rightly so. That is an important issue that should not be ignored. However, in my remaining time, I want to consider sectors other than the public sector, because we have spent some time on that already.
It is always good to start at home, so I want to refer to the Equality Commission in particular.
Its 2005-06 annual report states:
“The Commission completed its own Article 55 report this year. Although the report demonstrated some improvement in applicant numbers from the Protestant community, the representation of Protestants in our workplace fell over the review period.”
If Members look in detail at the Equality Commission’s figures, one report states that 40·7% of its workforce is Protestant and almost 60% is Roman Catholic. However, if one looks at the 2005-06 annual report, the table in appendix 2 on page 59 tells us that 35% of its staff is Protestant.
Mrs D Kelly: Will the Member give way?
Mr McCausland: I will give way as soon as I complete the figures. According to the report, out of a staff of 140, 57·1% is Roman Catholic and the religion of 7·9% cannot be determined. It is a serious issue that Protestants are under-represented in the very organisation that is tasked with dealing with equality in recruitment. The Equality Commission is an organisation that is supposed to promote affirmative action and work to eliminate discrimination, yet it cannot get it right in its own house.
Mrs D Kelly: None of us disputes the Equality Commission’s staffing figures — it has been up front about them.
Can the Member tell me how the DUP plans to encourage people from its community to apply for jobs in the Equality Commission?
Mr McCausland: I am happy to respond that I had folk in my office recently who were querying the fact that, having applied for a job in the Equality Commission, they found that their applications had been turned down.
Members should look at the sector to which the Equality Commission belongs — I tend to include it with other organisations that come from what we term “the voluntary sector”. NICVA represents community organisations across Northern Ireland. Figures show that 38% of its staff is drawn from the Protestant community and 61·4% comes from the Roman Catholic community. That organisation does not represent people in a particular area, locality or community — it is the “Northern Ireland” Council for Voluntary Action. Therefore it should reflect the general community in Northern Ireland. It should not be an organisation in which people from the Protestant community are seriously under-represented.
If NICVA were the only voluntary-sector organisation that had such Protestant under-representation, one might look for another reason for it. However, look at the Rural Community Network (RCN). The RCN has a total of 33 staff, yet it reports that it has fewer than 10 Protestants working for it. It does not tell us exactly how many; however, if it is fewer than 10, arithmetic tells us that it is nine or fewer. At best, it works out that about 25% of the RCN’s staff is drawn from the Protestant community.
I looked at reports from the past three or four years and found that that under-representation is not a one-off blip or an accident with the figures. Year after year, that has been the staffing pattern for those organisations. Where is affirmative action being taken to put right those figures?
Let us consider a few more organisations: the Community Relations Council (CRC), an organisation with which I am involved as a member of its board, has an under-representation of Protestants on its staff. I have raised that issue with the CRC. Protestant employees of the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland total only 41%. Protestants are under-represented across the voluntary sector.
Is that persistent pattern due to discrimination? In some cases, I would say that I do not know, because I do not know the organisation. I suggest that it is not necessarily down to discrimination but to a differential in the strength of the community sector in the nationalist and unionist communities. In other words, when those large voluntary umbrella organisations recruit, fewer Protestant people are available for them to recruit, but a plethora is available in the nationalist community.
Therefore they probably draw from employment pools that differ in Protestant and Catholic areas but that reflect the differential in community-sector infrastructure in those communities. The figures that I have quoted strengthen the case for greater investment in community and cultural development in Protestant areas, because the outworking of the differential is there for all to see.
However, it cannot be left at that, because those Province-wide voluntary organisations play a prominent role in policy-making, have a consultative role with Government and are even trying to play a part in community planning. Until those organisations get their own houses in order, those roles must be seriously challenged. I welcome the debate and the report, which have enabled Members to speak about the large organisations in the public and voluntary sectors.
Mr Campbell: As a résumé of the debate, does the hon Member agree that, as other Members have said, the under-representation of nationalists, or Catholics, in the voluntary or public sectors has generally been diminishing in recent years? That is true almost everywhere. The converse is equally true: where there is unionist, or Protestant, under-representation, under-representation is getting worse. The Equality Commission must address that situation, yet it has failed to do so.
Some Members: Hear, hear.
Madam Speaker: Will you draw your remarks to a close, please, Mr McCausland?
Mr McCausland: Yes. I thank my colleague for making that point, because it is at the core of the matter. Under-representation of the Protestant community may be being ignored, whitewashed or forgotten, but it is certainly not being dealt with. The Equality Commission’s report provides strong evidence as to why that under-representation must be addressed.
Some Members: Hear, hear.
Madam Speaker: I remind Members that if amendment No 1 is made, amendments No 2 and No 3 will fall.
Question, That amendment No 1 be made, put and negatived.
Question, That amendment No 2 be made, put and agreed to.
Mr Kennedy: When the business is concluded, Madam Speaker, may I raise a point of order on a separate matter?
Madam Speaker: I am about to put the Question on the motion as amended.
Main Question, as amended, put and agreed to.
That this Assembly notes the recent publication by the Equality Commission of its Annual Monitoring Report on the Northern Ireland workforce, and calls on the Commission to investigate trends in recruitment, both for a substantial period in the public sector and recently in the private sector, in order to establish if appointments have favoured one section of the community and, if necessary, to take and/or recommend appropriate action.
Mr Kennedy: On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Given recent speculation, will you confirm to the Assembly, at the earliest opportunity, the status of the political affiliation of the Member for Mid Ulster Mrs Geraldine Dougan? Has the Speaker’s Office received any confirmation that Mrs Dougan now wishes to be considered an independent Member of the House, and, if so, can that information be relayed to Members?
Madam Speaker: Rather than allow you to continue, Mr Kennedy, I inform you that the political affiliation of a Member is not a matter to be raised in the House. However, I will inform Members of any change to Mrs Dougan’s designation as soon as possible.
Adjourned at 3.59 pm.