HC Deb 21 June 1990 vol 174 cc1098-100
3. Mr. Harry Barnes

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when he last met representatives of the North Eastern education and libraries board to discuss educational provision.

Dr. Mawhinney

The last formal meeting was on 28 April 1989.

Mr. Barnes

Why are community workshops and training centres in Northern Ireland being forced out of the further education college sector? The North Eastern education and libraries board has announced the redundancy of 26 college lecturers. Should not there be proper consultation with the college lecturers so that their redeployment can be considered, the whole issue discussed and, even better, the crazy plan dropped?

Dr. Mawhinney

The hon. Gentleman has the first part of his supplementary question slightly wrong in that the provision of training for young people is being discussed. There has been a considerable variation in colleges in quality of training and in the cost of youth training programme places, ranging from £2,000 to £7,000, although not related to quality.

The hon. Gentleman talks about 26 redundancies in the North Eastern board. I pay tribute to the board as one of the five in Northern Ireland which do an excellent job delivering education in schools and further education colleges. The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that, following consultation, there will not be 26 forced redundancies. Through natural wastage, redeployment and voluntary early retirement, there are likely to be only two redundancies.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Is the Minister aware that tonight on "Spotlight" there will be an exposure of a very serious matter that has arisen at the Derry youth and community workshop, headed by Mitchell M'Loughlin, one of the leaders of the IRA Sinn Fein, where £25,000 has gone missing this year? Will the Minister make a statement about that?

Dr. Mawhinney

I was not aware of that programme.

Mr. Beggs

As a former chairman of the North Eastern board, I welcome the interest that hon. Members are showing in it. Does the Minister agree that the board enjoys a high reputation with the teachers' unions for the sympathetic way in which it, with the support of the Department of Education, has dealt with redundancies?

Will the Minister also join me in advising employers in Great Britain and elsewhere who face shortages of highly skilled graduates, technicians and a well-educated work force, that the North Eastern board and we in Northern Ireland have been preparing our young people to meet the challenges of not only 1992 but the 21st century?

Will the Minister ask the Parliamentary Under-Secretary to urge the Industrial Development Board and other agencies associated with seeking inward investment to use the open invitation from the North Eastern board to them and their clients to visit our schools and colleges and see the skills and levels of achievement of all our young people?

Dr. Mawhinney

I am happy to endorse what the hon. Gentleman says about the good relationship between the North Eastern board and the schools and colleges in its area and the good practice there, some of which was established under his distinguished chairmanship.

I am happy to join the hon. Gentleman in pointing out to the rest of the United Kingdom the high quality of training which we believe will be enhanced by the new arrangements, and the opportunity not only for Northern Ireland young people to go to England, Scotland and Wales for jobs but for Great Britain firms to invest in Northern Ireland and make use of the skilled work force and the amenities there.

The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that within the past 48 hours the Parliamentary Under-Secretary and I have discussed the invitation to firms to visit schools in the North Eastern board area.

Mr. Alton

I congratulate the Minister on the additional provision that he has made for the Irish language in each of the five boards in Northern Ireland. What plans does he have to extend Irish language provision throughout the Province and what discussions is he currently having with representatives on that important matter?

Dr. Mawhinney

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for those remarks. The position of the Irish language is safeguarded in the education reform new curriculum proposals in Northern Ireland. In addition, as part of the cultural heritage and cultural traditions programme, extra money has been made available to the Ultach Trust, which is seeking to develop the Irish language in Northern Ireland in its cultural context. I welcome that, because, as with a number of other subjects in Northern Ireland, these issues should be removed from the political arena and put back in the cultural affairs arena where they belong.

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