Category Archives: Assembly Update

O’Dowd’s priorities all wrong – Trevor Lunn opinion piece

Trevor Lunn MLA on a recent visit to Malone College

Trevor Lunn MLA on a recent visit to Malone College

Whist I have some sympathy with the Education Minister’s problems, several recent decisions fly in the face of stated ministerial priorities and obligations.

The decision on Drumragh Integrated College ignores the stated obligation to “facilitate and encourage” integrated education, to allow successful and popular schools to expand and the principle of parental choice.

In the High Court last year, the Department stated that in future, consent of other schools would not be required for a proposal to be granted, area school enrolments should not override the statutory obligation to integrated education, yet this is exactly what the Minister says lies behind his decision.

The education of our children together is a vital component of any shared future agenda, but it appears the Minister still has difficulty accepting this simple premise or honouring his legal duty in this area.

Clintyclay Primary School is trying to make history as the first Catholic maintained school to transform to Integrated status and despite the opposition of CCMS and the Department, Mr Justice Treacy has upheld their judicial review of the Department’s refusal to allow them to do so. Will the Department appeal this decision? I sincerely hope not, but who knows?

Primary school language tuition is regarded worldwide as valuable to children, this has been recognised by the Department by supplementary funding for many years, but now without warning this support has been removed. A vital front line service (these are supposed to be protected) being discontinued to the disadvantage of our kids against those from other countries, and to Northern Irelands long term ability to compete for business.

Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects are a priority for the Department, to equip our children for their futures in employment and to enable NI PLC to compete for jobs in the world economy. The Ministers response is to cut 50% from the grant to Sentinus who do such valuable and essential work in this field.

Budgetary control is vital to the efficient running of any Department but so is eliminating the costs of a divided society, hence the need to promote integration where parents clearly want it. When budgets are tight the priority must be quality education and the need to equip our children for careers.

By these decisions, the Minister is leaving himself open to the charge of wrong priorities, training too many teachers for too few jobs, Irish Language expansion (which I will support but not at any cost) as well as maintaining segregation.

We await further developments with interest.

Tackling Segregation

I have continued to challenge segregation in Northern Ireland in all its forms, most obviously in my role on the Education Committee.

I believe in shared schooling. The integrated model offers an excellent example of this, though it is not the only one. More and more schools across Lagan Valley are recognising the potential for working together more effectively – sharing facilities, broadening choice, and reducing bureaucracy.

Although I am under no illusions about the challenges we face, I also believe the devolved institutions should show leadership in promoting sharing and community relations. It is easy to talk about these, but far harder to deliver in practice and to make delivery obviously beneficial to all of you. I recognise that documents such as the ‘CSI Strategy’ may initially appear remote from people going about their day-to-day lives, but a proper approach to them at the top of government would be a clear demonstration to those working hard on community relations on the ground that their work is being taken seriously.

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Regenerating Lagan Valley’s economy

Trevor Lunn

Trevor Lunn MLA is working for you as the Alliance Party’s Enterprise Spokesperson

Since the last election, I have had the opportunity to take a deeper interest in the full range of Enterprise and Trade issues.

I have written to the Finance Minister concerning rates paid by retailers in Lisburn City Centre, which I still regard as punitive in hard times such as these.

I have also tabled numerous questions on how we may generate our own business more effectively. In particular, I have advocated more and better support for those starting up in business, new services for those wishing to export and bring more money into the local economy, and targeting a wider range of people to get involved in business in the first place.

As a former businessman myself, I appreciate the range of issues facing people trying to make a living in retail, in manufacturing and in their own start-ups. I want greater priority placed on support for these people, and in this support being much wider than just the occasional grant.

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Working for You in the Assembly

On your behalf I have raised issues to do with:

  • Promoting new jobs
  • Enhancing our health services
  • Improving our social care
  • Breaking the education gridlock
  • Dealing with the past
  • Tackling the costs of division
  • Reducing High Street rates
  • Opposing the Glenavy incinerator
  • Delivering on the Maze project
  • Pushing for faster planning
  • Making our roads safer
  • Providing social housing

I am happy to raise questions and issues on these and other matters on your behalf. Just write or call in!

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Insurance must not inhibit local firms going for contracts

The Assembly is in recess until September, but that gives us a chance to look at some of the issues which have come across our desk over the past year or so.

One close to me, given my professional background, is insurance. I will continue to report here on the various ways in which I wish to look at the subject, but one particular issue I have raised in recent months is the prohibitive insurance requirements of public sector tenderers (most notably perhaps in construction).

I am concerned that local firms who would otherwise be well placed to bid for government contracts are instead being put off by requirements which simply could not reasonably be met by businesses operating in a jurisdiction of under 2 million people, and which are often plain unnecessary.

I do wish to continue to advocate improved policy in this area. If you have any thoughts, simply drop into our office in Graham Gardens or leave a comment to the left.

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