15th February 2017

NiamhOn Monday I received an email which, more than anything so far in this election campaign, gave me hope for our future.  It read:

Dear MLA candidate,

I’m a first time voter currently studying A levels in Enniskillen.
Through the study of politics at A level I am extremely aware of the tendency of the northern Irish electorate to vote in a tribal manner – green or orange. I do not want to contribute to this trend, I want to be part of a generation that votes based on policy and capability. I find it frustrating that the same sectarian rhetoric captivates every election, leaving little room for insightful political debate.
Therefore I would like to request a little information about your views on the following issues in order to ensure that I am as well informed as possible about the type of representatives I vote for on March 2nd:
-Abortion
-Marriage equality
-Integrated education
-Brexit and its implications on NI
-Managing the inquiry into the RHI scheme
-The current refugee crisis’ in Syria, Yemen and Sudan
-Fracking

Thank you,
Niamh Mcandrew

I replied yesterday, thanking Niamh especially, because if others of her generation realise the power of their votes, and, as she says, vote on the basis of policy and capability, then Northern Ireland will indeed have a bright and positive future. I asked Niamh for permission to post her letter on this blog and she gladly agreed, believing that if more young people saw the “power in using their voices then our political system would not be dominated by the past.”

My responses to the issues she raised, by the way, were:

Abortion
I believe that abortion should be considered as a health issue, not a matter for the police and the courts. It is a matter of conscience, but of the conscience of the pregnant woman, not of MLAs in Stormont. I therefore support the decriminalisation of abortion, in line with calls from the British Pregnancy Advice Service, so that it is a decision for each individual woman after consultation with medical professionals. I would also call for improvements in education, healthcare and support for families, in order that far fewer women are faced with this difficult and often heartbreaking decision.

Marriage equality
I am a passionate supporter of marriage equality and proud to be a member of the Green Party which was the first to bring the issue to Stormont. Now most of the other parties have caught up with us, and with public opinion, but equality has still been shamefully blocked by misuse of the petition of concern. We will continue to campaign, as individuals and as a party, for marriage equality and against the many other forms of discrimination against LGBTQ people.

Integrated education
I am a strong advocate for integrated education, which was the sector chosen by my own children and within which I am a school governor. I believe that a fully integrated education system would enable all students to fulfil their potential and would be a significant step towards building a genuinely shared society. Unfortunately, costly and divisive segregation of children from the age of four has obvious benefits for political parties which seek to gain votes through fear and mistrust, and many opportunities for integration have been sadly wasted by their inaction and hostility.

Brexit
I believe that Brexit, in the ‘hard’ form favoured by Theresa May, would be a disaster for Northern Ireland and especially for border counties like Fermanagh and Tyrone. I am therefore, with my Green Party colleagues, campaigning for Northern Ireland to have a proper voice in negotiations, for all existing European environmental, workers’ and human rights protections to be written into domestic law and for a referendum on any proposed Brexit deal.

RHI
Steven Agnew, the Green Party MLA raised issues with the design of the RHI scheme when it was first introduced in 2013, concerns that were sadly not addressed by those responsible. The technology and principle of the scheme were sound, but it was scandalously mismanaged. We support a judge-led independent enquiry into the RHI scandal, including into any relevant influence by secret party donors. The Green Party voluntarily publishes all donations of over £500, and I believe that other parties need to do so as well. We would also introduce a windfall tax on RHI payments, and have called for the Assembly Commissioner for Standards to be able to investigate alleged breaches of the Ministerial Code of Conduct, something which is not presently the case.

Refugees
I believe that we have a strong moral obligation to help refugees,especially children, including, where it is in their best interests, welcoming them to new homes in the UK. In the case of those forced from their homes in the Middle East, our responsibility is especially grave, as our country, by military intervention and the sales of arms, has played a shameful part in exacerbating the wars and conflicts from which people are fleeing. Neither can we escape our responsibility, as citizens of rich nations, for the climate change which is devastating much of the world, and creating more and more refugees.

Fracking
I was one of the founder members of the frack-free movement in Fermanagh and have continued to campaign against all kinds of so-called ‘unconventional’fossil fuel extraction at home and throughout the world and to support the growing divestment movement. I believe that we need a total ban on such techniques, which are destructive of environments, health, economies and communities, which contribute greatly to calamitous climate change and which are totally unnecessary now that clean and sustainable sources are able to meet our energy needs.

 

12th April 2016

Today I’m representing the Green Party at the Integrated Education Alumni hustings at the Black Box in Belfast.  This is the long version of what I’m planning to say, which will be reduced to three minutes for the debate:

For me, integrated education isn’t just another sector, another option, a consumer choice. Integrated schools are what the rest of the world calls – schools. If we’re serious about normalising our society, about the wellbeing of our children and adults, about making ‘community’ a noun that doesn’t need an adjective before it, then this is the path we have to take.

Defending a segregated system means forgetting all that we know about the way human beings develop. We know, from our own lives, that what happens in the first two decades is of far more significance that anything we experience later. So, you take a child from say four to eighteen. On every school day during that fourteen years you dress them in clothes that say ‘You are this, and you are not that.’ You send them to a building that says ‘You are this, and you are not that.’ You give them books, you tell them stories, you teach them games, all of them saying ‘You are this, and that you are not that.’ And when they are adults, we say ‘Why have we got such a divided society? We need some cross-community initiatives!’

‘Parental choice’ is the mantra that’s used to defend this nonsense. Well, in the Seventies my parents chose a school where we were hit, with canes and rulers and a teacher’s hard hand on our bare legs. My parents didn’t choose for me to be hit. There wasn’t any choice. And when there aren’t enough integrated schools, or they’re too far away, or oversubscribed, parents aren’t getting a choice. As Steven Agnew says, it’s like saying that people in Northern Ireland don’t choose sunshine.

When parents ‘choose’ a school for their children, they look at whether it’s reasonably accessible, whether their child will get a good education (whatever that means for them) and, most of all, whether the child will be happy. For post-primary students that usually means that the child themselves will actually decide. And, naturally enough, the most important factor for them is where their friends are going. It would be, I think we can say, a rather unusual ten-year-old who chose a school based on its denominational status. And I don’t believe that it’s a factor for many parents either. I move in fairly ‘faithful’ circles, and the only parents I’ve ever known to make education choices on religious grounds have chosen home education. Until the transfer form asks ‘Would you be more or less likely to choose this school if it transformed to integrated status?’ so-called ‘parental choice’ means nothing more than parental incarceration in the status quo.

I wish that shared education were a step along this path. I know and like and respect many people involved in shared education initiatives. My life would be much easier if I could wholeheartedly support what they are doing. But sadly, what shared education does, what it has been co-opted, if not intended to do, is to embed, and justify and shore up segregation. It’s been a fantastic PR success for the educational and political establishment. Our local paper has been running a series of interviews with what the more traditional schools still call Head Girls and Head Boys. One of the questions has been ‘Shared vs. Integrated Education?’ Of all the interviews I’ve read, not one of the students has understood the distinction. They’ve all said, ‘Yes, shared and integrated education is a good thing.’

‘Integration in its broadest sense,’ is another little phrase that’s making its insidious way into our consciousness. It usually means ‘not integrated at all, but we have a few of the Others, mostly in the sixth form.’ That’s a shame, because if it hadn’t been hijacked, it would be a good way of describing the Green Party vision of education. Educating Catholic and Protestant children and young people together is the starting point, in our society it has to be, but it doesn’t end there. We also need to stop dividing students by gender, by class, by how they do in arbitrary tests that they’re crammed for when they should be enjoying their childhood. We need to stop treating school education as simply a passport to university or a voucher in the jobs market. We need to stop making their certificated attainment dependent on highly stressful, concentrated, rote-revised exams that fail to recognise creativity or initiative or difference. We need to help our young people to learn about their world, their bodies and the society they will live in, about health, particularly mental health, about disabilily, about gender and sex and relationships, not just the mechanics of conception and contraception but the skills they need to make empowered choices and respect those of others. We need to invest properly in further and higher education, so that young people can study without the looming cloud of escalating debt. And finally, education shouldn’t be ending at sixteen, or eighteen or twenty-one or even twenty-five. A healthy society is one where people are continuing to learn throughout their lives, for their own fulfillment and to better support one another. ‘Once you stop learning, you start dying’ said Albert Einstein. We need fewer early deaths, and a lot more Einsteins.

12th March 2016

Yesterday’s Integrated Education Fund ‘Have Your Say’ conference in Belfast was both incredibly encouraging and profoundly depressing.  The inspiring bits came from the fifty or so delegates involved in integrated education: people from IEF and NICIE, principals, staff, governors, parents and most importantly, students.  Baroness May Blood introduced the event with an optimistic and positive message, and Alex Kane chaired the whole day with his usual humour and incisive questioning.  When I walked into the room, I realised that there were only two people there whom I’d met before, one being Alex himself, but six hours later I left with a long list of new friends, colleagues and kindred spirits.

The not-so-uplifting bit was the afternoon hustings session.  The five Executive and recently-Executive parties were each invited to send a representative and did so, although two arrived rather late.  In the early part of the session they were invited to set out their vision for education in Northern Ireland, but we didn’t hear anything very visionary.

Peter Weir of the DUP wanted more autonomy for individual schools, a ‘level playing field’ for different sectors, to target ‘underattainment’ and a ‘holistic approach’ which would involve more integration and convergence.  Trevor Lunn of Alliance talked about the shared/integrated education debate, saying that he was prepared to ‘give shared education a fair wind’ but worried about its emphasis on societal benefits and that the planning of school provision was ‘a farce and a disaster’.  Chris Hazzard of Sinn Fein wanted to see the ‘process of change accelerated’ with further modernisations to the curriculum and more capital investment in buildings.  He emphasised the limits of public spending and in a rather obvious justification for school closures, warned against an ‘obsession with bricks and mortar’.  Just in case all this wasn’t gloomy enough, he predicted problems with school transport and a rising number of children with special educational needs. Sandra Overend of the UUP, who hoped for a single state education system one day, talked about valuing children no matter what their skills and ‘level’ and about closer connections between education and industry.  Dolores Kelly from the SDLP still hadn’t arrived.

Alex asked the panellists whether they thought that the Shared Education Bill had ‘stymied integration education for a a generation?’ This was an opportunity for Trevor Lunn to speak out pretty boldly, putting clear yellow water between himself and the rest of the panel.  Sadly, he didn’t take it, vaguely replying that he supposed it had the potential to do so, but ‘maybe not in a big way’.  He did then mention that it was used by some politicians as an excuse for inaction, and that it institutionalises separation, but by then the chance for fire was gone.

After that, it was pretty safe for the other three (still no SDLP) to assure us that shared education was no threat (DUP), that it wasn’t ‘an end in itself’ (UUP) and that it would be ‘organic and indigenous’ (SF).

A heartfelt question from the principal of Phoenix Integrated Primary School about the destructive effect of multiple transfer tests on children’s education and wellbeing was rather dismissively dealt with by the newly arrived Dolores Kelly, who spoke of the need for an ‘honourable compromise’ but warned that ‘parents look at outcomes’ and that they ‘don’t want to be part of a social experiment’.  Since it is parents, along with teachers, who witness the terrible emotional cost of these tests upon their young children, I didn’t find this very helpful.

A question was then posed by the LucidTalk polling agency, which was also involved in the event, asking whether the current curriculum met the needs of Northern Ireland and global business.  The panellists were pretty much agreed on the importance of this, worrying that young people were not sufficiently ’employable’ and variously blaming the students themselves, their teachers and their parents.

During this exchange I was busy scribbling in my notebook, trying to formulate a question that summed up my deepening disappointment at this reductive and corporate view of education and the young people it is supposed to help.  I was beaten to it by Nigel Frith, principal of Drumragh Integrated College in Omagh, who argued, with passion and the frustration I too was feeling, that he didn’t believe that the purpose of education was to serve the needs of industry, and hated seeing schools treated as exam factories.

All of a sudden, like a flock of birds changing direction at a silent signal, all the panellists agreed. I hoped that we were going to explore the ways that schools can actually benefit their students, and was just preparing to ask another question, about wellbeing and mental health, when the next LucidTalk poll came up, about the advisability of a central planning authority.

This was much more up the politicians’ street and we endured a bit of desiccated bureaucracy-speak before the final LucidTalk question, on whether there should be a single common education system in Northern Ireland.  This wasn’t quite so welcome, and required a fair degree of waffle, especially from the atheist Chris Hazzard, who developed an intense concern for the right of the Catholic church to continue controlling an enormous proportion of our children’s lives.  ‘Parental choice’ is the mantra, regardless of the fact that far more parents choose integrated education than are allowed to access it, and that even where segregated schools are chosen, it is usually despite, not because of, their distinctive denominational status.

I put my hand up for my third planned question, following the suggestion, made earlier in the day, that all new schools should be by default integrated.  But it was too late.  One final observation had been made by an audience member, of the lack of vision and passion shown by the five party representatives.  It summed up the afternoon, but also laid down a challenge for me. If the voices speaking out for the value and necessity of integrated education are not those of the mainstream parties, then it is even more important for ours to be heard.  So this is very far from the last post I’ll write on the subject ….

(You have been warned.)

 

 

 

 

3rd February

Members of Erne Integrated College Chamber Choir at its recent Open Day.
Members of Erne Integrated College Chamber Choir at its recent Open Day.

The Sinn Fein flags were waving at Saturday’s No Conscience Clause rally, and its representatives cheerfully lambasted the DUP for its intolerance and bigotry. But behind the rainbow scenes, it is business as usual. And that means maintaining the status quo, keeping the respective nationalist and unionist voters firmly on board, balanced on either deck, to keep the shoddy ship of power-sharing above water.

Of course, sometimes they can do even better than the status quo. Sometimes, where their interests exactly coincide, they can even move backwards.  Take integrated education.  Or, as it’s called in the rest of the world, education.

The history of the integrated sector is one of, on the one hand, dedication, vision, extremely hard work and overwhelming public support.  Poll after poll has shown that a majority of parents would prefer integrated education for their children if it were available to them.  Less than two years ago, a survey published in the Belfast Telegraph found that:

  •  79% of respondents would support a request for their child’s school to become integrated;
  • 69% of people agreed an integrated school was the best setting to prepare children to live and work in an increasingly diverse society in the future;
  • 66% of respondents agreed integrated schools should be the main model for our education system;
  • 71% agreed that a single education system was the best way to deliver education in the future.

As the article says, these findings meant that:

“The Stormont Executive is facing unprecedented pressure to meet the demands of parents and provide more provision for integrated education in Northern Ireland.

So, how have the Executive parties responded to these demands?  By supporting the integrated sector, opening more integrated schools or by allowing existing schools to become integrated?  No, the hatches have been firmly battened down, the children locked safely in their segregated cabins and the crew gathered for a congratulatory noggin.

For the other side of the history is one of obstruction and hostility, by politicians, civil servants and churches alike.  I have already written about the attempt by CCMS to remove from the Good Friday Agreement the duty to encourage integrated education.  Now Peter Robinson has fallen into line, presenting the DUP’s new education policy.  As the Belfast Telegraph reports:

“The document states that “no school sector or ethos should be afforded extra statutory protection within the law” and makes no mention of integrated education in its 13 pages.

Both integrated and Irish medium education have protection in legislation under the Good Friday Agreement. The Agreement places a statutory duty on the Department of Education to “encourage and facilitate” Irish medium and integrated education, which was endorsed by 71% of the public in a referendum.

Tina Merron, head of the Integrated Education Fund (IEF), described the DUP policy on education as “very disappointing”.

She said: “In a major policy document the DUP has made no positive reference to integrated education and its role in a future education system for Northern Ireland.” Mr Robinson’s comments are a far cry from his renowned Castlereagh speech in October 2010 when he stated: “Who among us would think it acceptable that a state or nation would educate its young people by the criteria of race with white schools or black schools? Yet we are prepared to operate a system which separates our children almost entirely on the basis of their religion.”

It is, of course, no real surprise.  As I wrote in October:

Why this hostility from the power-sharing political establishment?  It’s hard to avoid the reflection that the main parties in Northern Ireland depend for their continued existence upon tribalism; the maintenance of an entrenched identity defined by fear of and ambivalence towards the other.  Educating children separately is one of the very best ways of keeping this status quo.  Every day, the route that a child or young person takes, the buildings they enter, the exercise books they write in, the people they sit next to, the very clothes they wear, tell them that they are this and not that.  Yes, the worst of the hostility has gone, at least in nice middle-class areas, a few out–of-school friendships are made and shared education initiatives allow them to visit one another or attend a few classes in other schools.  But the fundamental division is made, and underlined daily for twelve or fourteen years. Is it any wonder that, at the end of that process, so many vote according to the badge on their old school blazer, rather than their own best interests?”

The situation is shocking.  A segregated education system was deliberately created, at the behest of the churches, at a time when they scarcely regarded one another as Christian, never mind made any efforts towards reconciliation.  It has been maintained, at great social and economic expense, in order to retain church control and to build power blocs for the sectarian parties.  All this has happened despite the clear wish of both parents and students for a normal, universal education system where children and young people are not separated by gender, faith tradition or an arbitrary test of academic ability.

The Catholic church, to which I belong, bears a huge responsibility for this. There are historic justifications for distinctively Catholic schools having existed in the past, but, I believe, none to support their continuation as such today.  ‘They teach Gospel values,’ it is said, and in many cases this is true.  But so does every other school that is doing its job.  The Gospel values of justice, compassion, non-violence and personal integrity are taught wherever students are valued in themselves, taught to value others, especially the most vulnerable, and encouraged to question the society around them.  This is exactly what the Erne Integrated College has taught our two sons, and the principal reason why we have made our home in Enniskillen.

Meanwhile our current education system, we must admit, teaches other values as well, which are not of the Gospel: values of financial success, academic and sporting achievement at the cost of genuine learning and good sportsmanship, of pushing oneself up the ladder regardless of those who are shouldered aside.  Perhaps, if our churches were able to disentangle themselves from the segregated system, they would be able to recover a prophetic voice and speak out about these issues.

I have hope.  The continued public support for integrated education gives me hope.  The dismantling of segregated systems throughout the world gives me hope.  The many creative, wise and dedicated teachers who want to see change give me hope.  And the children and young people themselves, who don’t want to be separated, don’t want to be defined by the tradition of their parents, want to create a better, inclusive and open society, they give me the best hope of all.

 

 

 

9th January

18

A good day today, with Steven Agnew visiting Enniskillen at the invitation of the Erne Integrated College. As well as being an MLA and Leader of the Green Party in Northern Ireland, Steven is an enthusiastic supporter of the sector, having until recently been a Director of NICIE, the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education, and, like me, being a parent of a son attending an integrated school. As I am now a governor of the Erne College, I was very happy to pass on the invitation and arrange the visit.

1Alas, we couldn’t put on good weather to go with the warm Fermanagh welcome, and all three of us (thanks to Aidan for the photographs) were already wet and windblown by the time Steven got off the 261 bus from Belfast, having made the whole journey from his home in Bangor by public transport.  The bus takes quite a while – nearly two and half hours – but as he said, it was an undisturbed chance to catch up with some work.  I knew exactly what he meant, having two of exactly those opportunities lined up for myself tomorrow.

Our first stop in Enniskillen was at Fermanagh House for a meeting with the Fermanagh Trust, discussing the relation between shared and integrated education and also the potential for community energy projects in the county and beyond.  I have worked alongside Lauri McCusker in various capacities, so it was great to talk (and mostly listen) to him and his colleagues, including Catherine Ward with whom I helped to arrange a joint Trust/Churches Forum event a few years ago.  It was fascina3ting to hear more about the community development and community relations work which the Trust have been facilitating, especially in rural areas between very small primary schools.  The phrase ‘shared education has often been used as a fig-leaf for continued division, so it was especially important to find out how it can be a real stepping stone towards greater cohesion, in situations where full integrated education is not yet possible.  Later we were joined by Graeme Dunwoody, who has been working on the Trust’s Community Energy initiatives.  I would have liked more time to hear about these, but the whole day was on a tight schedule, so I’ll have to look forward to reading about them later.

At the Erne Integrated College Steven met with Year 14 students and talked with them about how he himself got interested in politics (largely through protesting against the Iraq War), how social and environmental justice are inextricably entwined, why young people should be allowed to vote at sixteen (when they are old enough to pay taxes and able to get into the habit of voting before the geographical upheavals of university), how real democracy would allow communities to make their own decisions about issues like fracking, and how politics in Northern Ireland is held back by an obsession with flags, parades and curried yoghurt. It was an excellent discussion, with students and teachers asking important questions and demonstrating the practical values of integrated education: respect, tolerance and open-minded, intelligent and good-humoured debate.

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After a final photograph we just managed to get away in time for Steven’s bus back to Belfast, and train home.  We’re very grateful to him for giving up his time to come and visit us in the Wild (at least as far as the weather goes) West, and for supporting the important work that is being done here in the areas of education, community development and energy.  Think global: act local is a basic tenet of Green politics, and today was an opportunity to link what happens on a small scale in Fermanagh with changes and movements that are taking place across Northern Ireland, Europe and the world.  For some of the students, today will have been their first experience of Green vision and values, but it won’t be their last.

 

 

 

24th November

1124When the week begins with burying a rat in the back garden, the portents aren’t necessarily that good. It was this sort of nice grey and pink rat, and I think we could have been friends, if we’d met in happier circumstances.  That is, in circumstances that didn’t include her (or his) having just been murdered by our cat Maxwell, who at eighteen months is suddenly developing his homicidal side. The rat’s cadaver was deposited just outside (for which I suppose I should be grateful) the back door at half-past eight this morning.

After that the day went fairly smoothly, with the usual Monday busyness of post office and English lessons, and a governors’ meeting (my second) at the Erne Integrated College in the evening.  I didn’t get home until half-past ten, which is my excuse for writing so late and so little, except to say that once again I’m really inspired by my fellow-governors’ sense, hard work and commitment to the vision of integrated education. The movement is under fire from all sides at the moment, but the need is as great as ever.

I borrowed the rat picture, by the way, from an interesting science blog by a chap called David Taylor.  If he needs it back, I’ll give it up, albeit with quite a pang.

24th October

1024To Erne Integrated College this morning for Prize Day.  I’ve very recently been appointed as a parent-governor of the school and I’m delighted to join the dedicated people in the board.  It’s a tough time for integrated education, with the political and religious establishments doing their utmost to discredit and downgrade it.  Just this week we have seen assaults from both ‘sides’; the misuse of the petition of concern procedure from the DUP to keep integrated representation off the new Education Authority and a proposal from CCMS (the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools)  that the duty to encourage integrated education, enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement, be removed from the Executive.

It’s very sad.  The truth is that integrated education is hugely popular with parents, students and communities across Northern Ireland.  The principal reason why only seven per cent of our young people are educated together is a simple lack of availability.  In many regions there is no integrated school nearby; in others they are over-subscribed.  Attempts to set up new integrated schools or to help existing schools to become integrated are obstructed, notably from the very top.

Why this hostility from the power-sharing political establishment?  It’s hard to avoid the reflection that the main parties in Northern Ireland depend for their continued existence upon tribalism; the maintenance of an entrenched identity defined by fear of and ambivalence towards the other.  Educating children separately is one of the very best ways of keeping this status quo.  Every day, the route that a child or young person takes, the buildings they enter, the exercise books they write in, the people they sit next to, the very clothes they wear, tell them that they are this and not that.  Yes, the worst of the hostility has gone, at least in nice middle-class areas, a few out–of-school friendships are made and shared education initiatives allow them to visit one another or attend a few classes in other schools.  But the fundamental division is made, and underlined daily for twelve or fourteen years. Is it any wonder that, at the end of that process, so many vote according to the badge on their old school blazer, rather than their own best interests?

1024bMeanwhile I’ve had a lovely day celebrating twenty years of the Erne Integrated College, and the achievements of present and past students.  The aspect of the school that we, as parents, have most appreciated has been the way that each child’s individuality has been recognised and nurtured.  In an all-ability school, not all will be academic high-flyers, though some notably are, but each has her or his own talents, enthusiasms and engaging idiosyncrasies.  It has been EIC’s vision and practice to identify these and celebrate them, producing a rounded community of thoughtful, generous and confident young adults.  Two of these former students were the special guests today, in refreshing place of the usual pompous dignitaries.

1024cLynn McFrederick of the women’s Northern Ireland  football and Fermanagh GAA teams spoke in the morning to the older students, while Anthony Breen, cameraman on Game of Thrones and the forthcoming films Robot Overlords and Miss Julie (shot at Castle Coole here in Fermanagh) talked to the younger ones in the afternoon.  The growing success of Northern Ireland in film and TV (the Blandings series was also filmed in Fermanagh) is a great fit with the strengths of both the Green Party and  the integrated education movement: the valuing of creativity, technical innovation, the integrity of our landscape and a positive future for our young people.  “Filming not Fracking” might sum it up: a sentiment that Anthony himself passionately echoes, as I discovered while talking to him before this afternoon’s session.

Afterwards I met a fellow frack-free campaigner, who’d heard my news.

“I suppose I’d better vote for you, then.”

“That would be nice, if you could.”

“I haven’t voted for twenty years.”

It’s true.  Politics in Northern Ireland has become so polarised and so petty that there is a vast constituency out there of people for whom it has nothing whatsoever to say or to offer. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t care about their society, their environment and their children’s future.  On the contrary, they care too much to entrust them to the hacking and haggling of the Executive parties.  Many readers of greenlassie will be among this group – I hope to speak for you.

1024a

The Erne Integrated College Chamber Choir welcoming us this morning.  The choir will be performing at the forthcoming Integrated Education conference at Stranmillis.  The white flashes are not light sabres, but the reflective strips integral to the new school blazers.