The ACE scheme has proved very popular since it was introduced by the present Government in 1981 with a budget of £1·67 million providing 430 ACE jobs. Since then, funding has been substantially increased. This year's budget was £24·24 million and I am seeking further funds to bring the estimated average number of ACE jobs provided throughout the year to 6,150.
May I ask the Under-Secretary of State and the Secretary of State most sincerely to review the decision to sack the six ACE workers at St. Matthews community centre on unspecified security grounds? The workers concerned consider this to be a smear on their character and the work that they have been doing in providing an advice centre and an Irish language nursery. Promotion of the Irish language is supposed to be part of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. Those workers have been told that if they move to other premises they may be able to continue their work, but there are no other premises. Will the Minister agree to meet their trade union to reach a reasonable settlement, and will the Government stop smearing those workers and the work that they have been doing for so long?
Does the hon. Gentleman appreciate that when Government funding is withdrawn, funding from other sources also dries up and the future employment of those involved is prejudiced? Does the hon. Gentleman accept that these are draconian consequences for the organisers of the scheme, who have not even been informed of the allegations against them? Is he aware of press comments right across the political spectrum describing it as farcical to suggest that a Gaelic-speaking nursery school could pose a threat to law and order?
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Irish language school in west Belfast has the full recognition of the Department of Education and Science and that the function of the Irish language nursery school in the Short Strand area is to prepare children to attend that school? Does he appreciate that that nursery school education is an essential part of the educational process of children going on to attend the Irish language school in west Belfast? Will the hon. Gentleman therefore reconsider the Government's decision?