28 February 2006

Plea over education strategy for loyalist areas


27/02/2006 - 19:34:49

The British government was today urged to come up with an education strategy for all ages in loyalist areas of Belfast.

After a meeting with Northern Ireland Office minister David Hanson, Democratic Unionist MP Nigel Dodds confirmed the minister was expected to reveal his plan for revitalising working-class Protestant neighbourhoods before Easter.

The North Belfast MP, who was part of a delegation of DUP Assembly members who met the minister including deputy leader Peter Robinson, revealed they had stressed the importance of early years intervention and also lifelong learning.

“We raised the whole issue of how schools can be managed as learning hubs and centres not just from nine to three in the afternoon every day but throughout the day,” he said.

In 2004, Mr Hanson’s predecessor at the Department of Social Development, John Spellar, appointed a taskforce to address social and economic problems within the loyalist community.

Since taking over from Mr Spellar last year, Mr Hanson has had over 40 meetings with community workers, business leaders, unionist and loyalist politicians.

He visited some of Belfast’s most deprived loyalist neighbourhoods, including Upper Ardoyne, Ballysillan and Mount Vernon, to witness the work being done by communities to address social and economic problems.

During a visit to the Shankill in October he announced a delivery team headed by Northern Ireland Civil Service chief Nigel Hamilton would take forward the findings of the taskforce’s report.

The team will report directly to him on how public services can be co-ordinated to the maximum benefit of loyalist communities.

Last month, Mr Hanson said while deprivation was more prevalent in nationalist areas, loyalist communities often found it harder to tackle problems because they weren’t as well equipped to deal with them.

“A pound of government money on Belfast’s Shankill Road will not buy the same output as a pound spent in nationalist areas like the Falls Road,” he said.

“I am currently developing, in parallel with all of this, the Neighbourhood Renewal Scheme, which is looking at the most deprived wards in Northern Ireland.

“The majority of those, about 60%, are in nationalist areas. The deprivation in individual places on the Falls Road is no different from the deprivation in some places on the Shankill Road.

“But the difference is that there is a better infrastructure in terms of how nationalist communities focus on these issues and there are better outputs for the investment we put into those areas.

“There is a more focussed approach as to what the challenges are and how we get out of them.

“There are certainly pits of depression in nationalist areas but the challenge to get out of them is much higher in loyalist areas.”

Earlier this month Mr Hanson announced a multi-million pound investment package for the loyalist Village area of south Belfast, involving new homes, business units and a sports ground.

Mr Dodds said the delegation which also included his wife Diane, Nelson McCausland and Robin Newton had discussed the party’s 12-page dossier, which was submitted to the British government before Christmas.

As well as discussing education, they also focussed on employment and skills in Protestant areas, housing and the environment.

“The DUP impressed on him this process cannot be dragged out. There is a need for action and there are indications we will see movement either at the end of next month or early April – certainly before Easter.”

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