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Preschool Provision: East Belfast 6/5/2014

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Like Mr Douglas, I indicate my gratitude to Judith Cochrane.  This is an important debate, coincidental though it may be that it came immediately after the debate on underachievement, particularly among young Protestant boys.  It is important in the sense that we want to get the right start in life, the right conditions and the right support for our children.  There is no doubt that parents definitely feel that getting a quality provision of preschool education is a very good foundation.  They are particularly interested in getting a provision that will enable the child to transfer into the primary-school system and where the relationships that are built up can be maintained as they go into primary school.  I thank Mrs Cochrane for proposing the debate.  It is not the first time that we have debated the issue.  We have debated it before and, hopefully, will not have to debate it next year.  We will wait to hear what the Minister has to say, but we hope that we will not need to debate it next year.

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Protestant Working-class Boys: Underachievement 6/5/2014

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The motion recognises that the Community Relations Council's report reinforces the conclusion of other, similar reports.  The motion recognises and:  

"notes the positive action which the Minister of Education has taken to support other ethnic and minority groups"  

and

"calls on the Minister of Education to outline the specific steps his Department is taking to redress this situation"  

and to establish a sectoral body for the controlled sector to enable the issues to be addressed.  That is no more than other sectors have been awarded.

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Religious Belief and Worship: Worldwide Freedom 25/3/2014

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Simon Heffer, in his book 'Great British Speeches', highlights a speech made in 1792 by Charles James Fox in the House of Commons, when he spoke on religious liberty.  He said:

"to call on man to give up his religious rights, was to call on him to do that which was impossible... no state could compel it — no state ought to require it, because it was not in the power of man to comply with that requisition."

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Animal Cruelty 31/3/2014

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Animal cruelty is abhorrent to all right-thinking people.  I pay tribute to all volunteers and charitable organisations that have animal welfare and the interests of animals at heart.

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Legal Highs 10/3/2014

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Like others, I pay tribute to my colleagues for raising the issue.  I support the motion and was disappointed by Mr McCarthy's remarks.  He said that it was nothing to do with his Minister and that, because this is not a devolved matter, it was really Westminster that was dragging its feet.  That seemed to me a Pontius Pilate-type approach.  I was looking for the dish of water in which Pontius Pilate was washing his hands of the matter.

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East Belfast Tourism 3/12/2013

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I thank the Minister for being here this evening, and I do so in the knowledge that she has a long journey to make when she leaves the House.  I also pay tribute to her for the work that she has already done for tourism, as she promotes Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland tourism product across the globe.

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School Hours 3/12/2013

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Like others, I was confused when I saw the motion, particularly in light of previous answers to questions that had been posed.  Then, I thought about it in the context of the Minister recently talking about free school meals without consultation and talking about the schools funding formula with very limited consultation.  In that context, many would think that the motion was structured to predetermine an outcome.

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C.S. Lewis 19/11/2013

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Like others, I commend my party colleague Sammy Douglas for securing the debate.  It is fitting that we have the debate this evening and fitting that we pay tribute to C S Lewis, his life, his values, his achievements and the standards that he set.  It would have been remiss if we had allowed the fiftieth anniversary of his passing to go without marking it in some fitting way.  It is all the more important that we pay tribute to him as he is honoured in Westminster Abbey's Poets' Corner.  I have to say that the fiftieth anniversary would have passed me by, only that I read an article about him being honoured in Poets' Corner.  I am glad that we have not allowed this landmark to pass without speaking here today.

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Oversubscribed Schools 4/11/2013

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I thank everyone who took part in the debate.  Generally speaking, it was moderate and even-tempered.  Members expressed their concerns for their constituency, though this is a problem that is not tied to one constituency.  When children approach those first formal steps to get into the system of education, two concerns face parents, and those were highlighted across the Chamber.  The first is that parents want their child to get into the school of the parents' first choice.  The second is that they want their children in a school where classroom numbers are manageable.  The solution to the second concern seems to be so simple that it is only common sense, and common sense was highlighted during the debate rather than rigid dogma, which is, perhaps, being applied.  The way to deal with overcrowding is to add classrooms and hire some of the 240 teachers supported by the OFMDFM initiative for a fixed period.

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Common Funding Formula 24/9/13

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I support the motion.  This morning on BBC's 'Good Morning Ulster', your common funding formula was described as "robbing Peter to pay Paul".  Trevor Lunn and I must be talking to the same people, because it was put to me that, again, this was acting in a Robin Hood-type manner, except there are no rich schools from which to steal to give to the poor.

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