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School Programmes: East Antrim

Oral Answers to Questions — Education – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:15 pm on 15th November 2016.

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Photo of Stewart Dickson Stewart Dickson Alliance 2:15 pm, 15th November 2016

4. Mr Dickson asked the Minister of Education to outline any programmes in schools in East Antrim designed to deter children from illegal activity and paramilitary involvement. (AQO 659/16-21)

Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir DUP

There was just a bit of natural flow in that regard.

The statutory curriculum that is taught in all schools includes citizenship education which enables young people to participate positively and effectively in society, play their part in democratic processes and make informed and responsible decisions as citizens throughout their lives.

At primary level, it is part of the personal development and mutual understanding area of learning. Pupils look at diversity, cultural heritage, promoting inclusion, human rights, causes of and responses to conflict, and playing an active and meaningful part in the community, all of which contribute to turning children away from involvement in illegal and paramilitary organisations.

Specifically, at post-primary level, local and global citizenship is part of the learning for life and work area. Pupils explore issues such as diversity, prejudice and racism, promoting inclusion and reconciliation, mutual respect, equality and human rights, social justice and exclusion, democracy, and participation through local and global examples.

In addition to this, because, as I may have mentioned earlier, we sometimes focus purely on what is happening in the classroom, my Department also provides funding directly to the Education Authority (EA) under the youth intervention programme. This is to support young people in times of community tension and unrest. Last year, the fund was a little bit over £800,000. This targeted programme enabled the creation of, if you like, diversionary activity for individuals who were often at risk of involvement in paramilitary activity. That is an important part of this as well.

I am not aware of specific programmes in schools in East Antrim per se but I hope that the aspects in the curriculum, as I have outlined them, will deter children from involvement in illegal and paramilitary activities. Nobody wants children to go down the wrong route in life. Whether it is paramilitary activity or other criminal activity, we all have to play our part in ensuring that we divert people from that.

Photo of Stewart Dickson Stewart Dickson Alliance

I thank the Minister for his answer. Minister, you will appreciate that, given the imminent and real danger to young people in East Antrim, particularly in Carrickfergus and Larne, intervention is vital for how we support our young people in those communities. In respect of dealing with paramilitaries, the Executive agreed an action plan, including an early intervention transformation programme. Have you met that board? What action will you take with the early intervention transformation programme board to deal with the matter?

Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir DUP

As yet, I have not had a direct meeting with the board, but I am happy to work alongside it. If we need to do things in a multi-agency or multi-departmental way, I am keen to embrace that. If young people go down that pathway, they are potentially creating a risk to society in terms of deaths, injuries and damage to property. That is bad enough, but added to that is the danger of a young person being left scarred for life by a criminal record. We should take any steps that we can to divert people from that. I am happy to meet anybody in that regard. I will try to get the Member details of any activities that the EA has planned in East Antrim and send them to him.

Photo of Oliver McMullan Oliver McMullan Sinn Féin

I thank the Minister for his answers so far. Can you, Minister, give me your Department's assessment of the harm that the culture of paramilitary activity and domination in parts of Carrick and Larne is having on the educational attainment of young people and children? In the absence of such an assessment, will your Department consider carrying one out?

Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir DUP

I am not sure whether there is much point in doing something so specifically location-oriented. Unfortunately, there are still parts of Northern Ireland in which there is paramilitary activity and paramilitary organisations in both sections of the community. As I indicated, there is clear damage to the lives of young people who get involved, and they should be discouraged from any such activity. There is risk to their future long-term prospects in terms of criminal records and their life, let alone the damage that they do to others. As you indicated, it is also about the impact that that will have on their educational opportunities and the damage that is done. From that point of view, we need to look at how we can do that throughout Northern Ireland. If there are specific interventions that can happen in a constituency, I am happy for the EA to do those; it will perhaps know what needs to be done directly on the ground. If there is any form of audit, it needs to be taken forward on a much wider basis to ensure that all areas where there are problems are properly dealt with.

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Deputy Speaker

I call Phillip Logan for a brief question and a brief answer.

Photo of Phillip Logan Phillip Logan DUP

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. What progress has the Minister made on implementing the plans in the Fresh Start Agreement for tackling paramilitary activity?

Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir DUP

To add to what has been said, the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) has provided outline costs for the development of curriculum materials to address the issues of paramilitary activity, criminality and organised crime. Those materials will support the delivery of citizenship education in the curriculum. It is designed to raise awareness and develop understanding of active citizenship and lawfulness.

We have to be mindful of the fact that most of us are of a generation who know about what happened throughout the Troubles. We knew about the damage that was done to society as a whole. A lot of people are growing up for whom it is simply a historical event. We have to make sure that young people do not repeat the mistakes of previous generations, so the damage that can be caused to young people and society has to be brought home to them.

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Deputy Speaker

That ends the period for listed questions. We now move on to topical questions.