Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Save our Chilren's Education

As the driving force behind the ‘Save our Children’s Education’ petition I arrived at the Department of Education accompanied by the Deputy Mayor, the Deputy Mayor from Lisburn, Aldermen and Councillors from Ards, and Councillors from North Down to hand in the signatures collected from the 3 areas.

North Down had collected over 9000 signatures, and between North Down, Lisburn and Ards we represented a population of some 1/2 million people. It is my understanding that some 17000 signatures from people I involved were handed in, plus other Councils where totals have not yet been collated.

However, the Minister in her amazingly curt letter to North Down Borough Council, could not find time to meet with the deputation, nor did she provide the courtesy of appointing the Permanent Secretary to meet us, as would befit such a group.

We arrived in the pouring rain, and after some discussion at the gate we were allowed on to the premises of the Department of Education, remember the Department of Education is a public building staffed by public servants. We were told that we would not be allowed any further than the atrium – a glass section outside the reception area.

After the press had taken photos in the rain, we were permitted entry but only into the outer area – all the time being supervised by 2 members of staff from the Department. I don’t know what they thought we would do! The Minister would not accept the petitions, no one present knew if the Permanent Secretary was in the building, there were no Assistant Secretaries available; there were no Principal Officers available. It was left to a Deputy Principal who looked most uncomfortable to accept the signatures of 9000 from in this area concerned enough to take time to sign.

There are a number of saddening issues with regard to all of this, in that the education and the future of our children is being used as yet another stick with which to beat Northern Ireland into the acceptance of an Assembly.
That anyone would play politics with such an emotive issue.
The arrogance of a Minister who ignores the group who only wished a few minutes of her time.
That she could not even deputise the Permanent Secretary to accept the petitions.
BUT hopefully she will now reflect on the strength of opposition, not just from North Down, but from many other areas as well.
Our hope now is that she will show a very large degree of sensitivity and what we would call ‘a bit of common decency’ and take time to reflect and listen to the voice of the people.