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Executive divided by education proposals


16/05/2008 :: Northern Ireland :: The Irish News

Northern Ireland's new education proposals left the power-sharing executive in Belfast hopelessly divided last night.

Ian Paisley's DUP and Sinn Fein ministers clashed in a Stormont meeting over education minister Caitriona Ruane's plans to phase out the transfer test between now and 2013.

It was probably the most deadlocked meeting since devolved government was restored just over a year ago.

First Minister Mr Paisley said it was a sad day for Northern Ireland.

"The minister for education's proposals, as currently framed, are totally unacceptable and do not form a basis for moving forward," he said.

"As a result of the St Andrews negotiations, we secured a legislative guarantee that academic selection can and will remain.

"The default position is clear - schools will be able to select on the basis of ability. We will not accept less.

"The education minister can make any suggestion she wants to.

"However, it will not come into force unless she has the support of the DUP and the endorsement of the executive."

The St Andrews talks paved the way for political power-sharing.

Mr Paisley said Sinn Fein had rejected suggestions that a ministerial sub-committee be established, or the executive as a whole, would discuss the issue.

Sinn Fein minister Ms Ruane has pledged to press ahead with plans to scrap the 11-plus after this year despite opposition across the cabinet table.

Teaching unions and the Catholic Church have also backed the change.

"The educators are crying out for change," Ms Ruane said.

"We have to put children at the centre of this, we have to put aside political differences and we have to build an educational system that is equal and fair for all our children.

"The proposals that I came forward with were proposals for transitional managed change, a phased end to academic selection.

"Everyone recognises that there has to be change, everyone recognises that we are not treating all our children equally but people have to show leadership and I am going to show leadership."

Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said the minister would continue to do her job.

"We will continue the work of government. Nobody said that being in government was going to be easy.

"We have made huge progress on this issue. "There obviously is a difficulty - there are some people who have set their faces against change, there are others who are for change, we are clearly for change."



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