SDLP man slams MP’s claim that Orange Order can help education
AN SDLP councillor has branded remarks by a Labour MP over the Orange Order’s role in Northern Ireland schools as “ludicrous and ignorant”.
Cllr Brian Heading was reacting to comments made by Stephen Hepburn at an inquiry into education funding earlier this week where three senior staff from the Education Authority (EA) gave evidence.
During the briefing to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee at Westminster on Wednesday, Mr Hepburn asked the EA what it was doing to engage the Orange Order in education.
He said: “When I look at their marches you’ve got kids that size and you’ve got boys and girls in their teens.
“Surely if these Orange Orders can inspire young people to dress up so smart and look so great and be so proud and everything, they can inspire them to try a bit harder at school?”
EA chairperson Sharon O’Connor responded by saying that the organisation was actively working with “all manner of youth and community groups”.
Mr Hepburn also asked whether “local heroes” like golfer Rory McIlroy could assist in encouraging young people to perform well in school.
Responding to Mr Hepburn’s remarks, Cllr Heading, a member of Belfast City Council, said: “Our education system is in cri- Criticism: Brian Heading sis; continuous cuts to funding is piling pressure on schools like never before. The suggestion by a Labour MP that the Orange Order could in some way reverse this by encouraging young people to ‘try a bit harder in school’ is appalling.
“Mr Hepburn clearly knows very little about our divided past here, if this is his answer to our problem. When was the last time he visited or was here on the Twelfth of July?”
Mr Heading added: “Likewise, the unprecedented crisis schools are facing here cannot be fixed with merely encouraging pupils to ‘try harder’. Schools, in order to give pupils the best start in life, must be funded appropriately. The only way to ensure we mitigate the crisis our schools are facing is through an Education Minister who is prepared to make decisions.”
The Westminster hearing was also told that schools in Northern Ireland look set to overspend their budgets by about £33m in 2018/19 due to an ongoing funding shortfall.
The MPs were informed that the spending power of education budgets has fallen by £233m since 2010/11.