The new Education Minister, Paul Givan, opened his tenure as Education Minister a few weeks back with a vision for childcare provision within the context of Early Years child development, as the bedrock of the best start in life for all our children.

There are many aspects in relation to education where I would have a fundamental difference of opinion, but I give credit, where due.

It was an impressive start, notwithstanding the standard caveat about financial resources.

Last week, he addressed the wider Education budget in the Assembly, and specifically the ‘repurposing’ of £150million of Capital Budget for schools – the long and short of which was the reallocation of money already committed to specific schools for new buildings to go to something else, somewhere else.

If you can cast your mind way back to the Stormont House Agreement, the ‘Fresh Start’ money and ‘Together: Building a United Community’ – or T-BUC, as it was known in the community – the money being ‘repurposed’ was part of that incentive to get on with it, and was described then as “a multi-million fund for new-build projects”.

‘Building a United Community’ was a generally a mixed bag of mediocrity as a success or failure, depending on your viewpoint.

If you were selling pallets that ended up on bonfires, or more productively, finding better things for young people to be at over the summer, you probably did okay out of T-BUC’s revenue spend, and I would be surprised if that purse has a brass farthing remaining.

It would appear, however, that, eight years later, significant money remains unspent in the multi-million new-build fund.

The Secretary of State, Chris Heaton- Harris, appears to have unilaterally taken that money already pledged to people working on their building projects and put it into the general spend ‘to give more flexibility’ to Northern Ireland’s finances.

A question must now be asked if this £150million helps make up the latest financial incentive negotiated by the DUP, but they didn’t know.

If so, what is else is money that was already in the Northern Ireland money-box that has been raided and repackaged?

Not so much ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’ as robbing Peter to pay Peter, and hoping he won’t figure it out.

The long and short of it remains that ten school-build projects have been stopped in their tracks.

People in Fermanagh will have a particular interest in this, as one of the ten projects stopped in its tracks is the Brookeborough Shared Education Campus.

The effective delivery of the T-BUC vision might have fared better if the whole strategy had been entrusted to those people and local communities such as the children and parents, teachers and governing boards of Brookeborough PS, and St. Mary’s PS, the village community, and the wise stewardship of my good friend and colleague, Lauri McCusker, of Fermanagh Trust.

They all shared a determination to maintain a united community throughout the conflict, and helped to pioneer the shared campus approach to breaking down the social barriers and educational limitations which were a by-product of segregated education.

The planned shared campus project was given the official ‘go-ahead’ eight years ago.

It was the culmination of almost 40 years of peacebuilding in a shared campus, and a model of how this can, and should, be done.

It is entirely possible that it is sheer coincidence that the criteria used to determine where the axe should fall led it to fall entirely on primary schools in the Integrated Schools sector.

If I were on the Board of Governors on any of the schools affected, I would want to see the evidence for that, notwithstanding the fact that the Minister seems to believe he might yet find the money down the back of a Westminster sofa.

A High Court review of both the NIO and departmental decision might help to return the fund, or reverse the decision that its loss should be carried entirely by Integrated Education schools.


It is just over 23 years ago since Tony Blair made Education a central pillar of the British Labour Party Manifesto in that election year.

This was the same Tony Blair who ‘felt the hand of history’ upon his shoulder when steering the ‘Good Friday Agreement’ across the finishing line.

He hasn’t yet disclosed if he felt History’s hand grasping him by the scruff of the neck as a potential war criminal in relation to conning the United Kingdom into joining the illegal invasion of Iraq.

That day may yet come.

The invasion of Iraq may come to be viewed by History as a seminal action in reducing the Middle East to its present state of affairs, the consequences of which may yet be a widespread – if not global – conflict.

Sadly, at his age, US President Joe Biden is unlikely to live long enough to stand trial for his singular determination to finance what many are calling genocide in Gaza, while talking out of both sides of his mouth about world peace.

That aside for now, Blair’s electoral soundbite in 2001 was, “Education, Education, Education”, and his impassioned speech to the party faithful started with the paragraph quoted below.

“Our [Labour Party] top priority was, is, and always will be Education, Education, Education. To overcome decades of neglect and make [Britain] a learning society, developing the talents and raising the ambitions of all our young people ... But they ought also to learn the joy of life: the exhilaration of music, the excitement of sport, the beauty of art, the magic of science ... And they learn the value of life: what it is to be responsible citizens who give something back to their community.”

It was a vision that never came to fruition, despite two further terms in government for the Labour Party.

As T. S. Eliot despairingly put it in his post-World War 1 poem, ‘The Hollow Men’:

Between the idea and the reality

Between the motion and the act

Falls the Shadow.