Snow stopping us now!
A storm is battering Boston as I speak but, weather gods permitting, I will be in Boston on Wednesday evening to promote the Homecoming
— now moved to 7-10 October 2015 — and to lobby for investment and new transatlantic flights. I will address an Invest NI breakfast in Boston on Thursday morning then head up to the tropical climes of Toronto to speak at a Belfast Breakfast Friday hosted by Tourism Ireland and Irish Ambassador to Canada Ray Bassett.Among my key engagements will be a discussion with Thomas Glynn,
CEO of Massport to discuss a Boston-Belfast air route and a meeting with OMERS
(Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System), the pension fund which owns Belfast International Airport as well as a luncheon in the famed boardroom of legendary Canadian investor Eric Sprott
. After that, it’s back to New York to attend the Irish Law & Order awards and to brief political leaders on idiotic plans to rip the heart out of West Belfast by closing the world class St Mary’s University College. I hope to see many friends of Belfast in all three cities and looking forward to rolling out the red carpet for diaspora leaders in October.
Anytime you find your spirits flagging in Belfast, head to a school for there you will find the future in all its brilliance and exuberance.
And, indeed, I had the good fortune to visit two inspirational schools this week: Bunscoil Bheann Mhadagáin in North Belfast and Malone College in South Belfast.
At Irish-medium Bunscoil Bheann Mhadagáin, I joined the Childline
Team who were visiting the pupils as part of their work in keeping our children safe from abuse, neglect and bullying. The pupils sent the Childline ambassadors away by showing they had memorised and could sign the Childline number in Irish 0800 1111.
On the way to their ageing school premises, I passed the new Bunscoil Bheann Mhadagáin school which will open on the Cliftonville Road in September, a great investment in education but also in the broader city because our experience has been that the Irish language revival is the bedrock of community renaissance.
On Friday, I joined Principal Máire Thompson and head governor Nuala O’Connor at Malone College, an integrated school at which Protestant and Catholic — and many other faiths besides — are taught together. The pupils come mainly from working class areas across the southwest of the city, with a large proportion hailing from the strong unionist communities of Sandy Row and the Village; districts which have been largely abandoned by the successful state grammar schools.
So the Malone College educators have a triple challenge: to educate children of different traditions together, to ensure all their pupils achieve the benchmark of five good grades at the GCSE exams they take at age 16, and to integrate a large ethnic minority cohort, many of whom are only recently arrived in Belfast and don’t speak English as their first language.
I’m pleased to say that the school is rising boldly to all those challenges and creating a beacon of education which is a source of pride for Belfast and a credit to the Malone teaching staff.
Make no mistake about it: this is the frontline in our battle to ensure all our children have access to a first-class education. And since education is the greatest tool to combat social inequality and to equip children for a productive life, it’s crucial that all of us get behind the schools toiling at the coalface of change.
On Thursday, I joined students at St Mary’s University College, an oasis of education in Belfast since 1900, to protest plans by the Minister for further education Dr Stephen Farry to close down the 1,000-pupil college. Amazingly, the Minister carried out no study on the devastating economic impact closure will have on the surrounding community in West Belfast — already the area of highest unemployment in Belfast — before taking this reckless decision. Nor has he taken into consideration the stellar results of St Mary’s University College, the boundless ambition of its students, the remarkable employment record of its graduates or the fact that 2015 Guardian league tables for top performing colleges in these islands ranked the institution fourth. I know what you are thinking: this faith-based educational dynamo that should be cherished and nurtured not shuttered. Me too. Email the hard-pressed but outstanding principal Peter Finn to ask how you can support his valiant efforts to stop what will be the biggest blow to West Belfast in a generation. I enclose below my question to the Minister at Question Time in the Assembly. (Photo by Gerd Curley)