Theresa Villiers encourages focus on tackling underachievement in NI schools, praises ‘faith leaders’
In an exclusive interview with the Gazette editor last week, Northern Ireland Secretary of State Theresa Villiers said it was important to continue focusing on dealing with “educational underachievement where it occurs”.
She said that tackling this issue could help in addressing social problems such as sectarian division. “If children are given the support they need to flourish in education, obviously it raises their aspirations,” Ms Villiers said.
The Secretary of State said that such a focus, in her view, took priority over any reorganising of Northern Ireland’s complex educational system, with its different sectors, but she also indicated that the “mechanics” of the way the system works were “primarily a devolved matter” for Stormont.
Ms Villiers said there were “some phenomenally good schools in Northern Ireland” and indicated that, for all the complexity of the system, “it is for many children delivering phenomenally good results”.
In terms of education and community relations, Ms Villiers said she thought it was “important to reflect on how Church schools can be very much part of delivering the goal that all children spend at least a good part of their education learning alongside others from different community backgrounds”.
She said in this regard that, while having integrated schools, it was also “highly effective” when schools from different faith backgrounds worked together in “shared education projects”.
Ms Villiers said it was often the case that “faith leaders have set a very strong example by actively working together across the different Churches to demonstrate the importance of community cohesion”.
TROUBLES LEGACY ISSUES
The Secretary of State said that she had a series of meetings lined up with representatives of the five largest parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly and that breaking the deadlock on issues related to the legacy of the Troubles was “at the top of the list of things to discuss”.
She expressed empathy with victims and survivors, saying: “I know that for many of them the pain and distress hasn’t gone away, even in some instances where the relevant attack took place many, many years ago.”
Ms Villiers also stated that she found the current statutory definition of a victim in the legacy context “troubling” but emphasised that changing it was a devolved matter, although it had been introduced by Westminster before devolution took place.
The current definition, contained in the Victims and Survivors (Northern Ireland) Order 2006, defines a victim and survivor as someone injured as a result of a “conflict- related incident”, someone who provides a substantial amount of care on a regular basis for such an individual or someone bereaved as a result of such an incident.
The long-running problem with this statutory definition has been the fact that it draws no distinction between those who were engaged in lawful activity and those whose actions were unlawful.
Asked to comment on the concerns expressed recently by the Archbishops of Armagh and Dublin regarding the consequences of a UK withdrawal from the European Union (a so-called ‘Brexit’) following the 23rd June UK referendum on the issue (Gazette report, last week), the Secretary of State said she wished to offer the Archbishops “reassurance that I firmly believe that Northern Ireland, like the rest of the UK, would be more prosperous and have a brighter future outside of the European Union”.
She also stated: “The border can be exactly the same after a Brexit vote as it is now.”
Ms Villiers said that there would be an “open border after a Brexit vote”, adding: “The Irish ambassador has made that clear; a number of Irish politicians have also made clear that they want to keep an open border. It’s
perfectly possible to do that; with a bit of common sense and goodwill we can maintain a border which is just as open after a Brexit vote as it is today.”
Asked about recent comments by Boris Johnson MP, comparing the EU with Adolf Hitler’s territorial ambitions, the Secretary of State said that Mr Johnson had simply been saying that “attempts in the past to establish a single European government have generally
met with failure”.
She added that it was “clear
that the ambition of the élite in Brussels is to create a country called ‘Europe’ with a single government”.
Pressed on the matter of Mr Johnson’s remarks, Ms Villiers said that he had not been saying that the European Union is like the Third Reich but, nonetheless, that she herself would not use the terminology that he had used. (Editorial, page 2)
EU INITIATIVE ON RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
Earlier this month, Ján Figel’, who was European Commissioner for Education, Training, Culture and Youth from 2004-2009 and First Deputy-Prime Minister of the Slovak Republic from 2010 to 2012, was appointed by European Union Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker as the EU’s first Special Envoy for the promotion of freedom of religion or belief outside the European Union.
The Commission has indicated that Mr Figel’ has taken up the role for an initial and renewable mandate of one year, Mr Juncker commenting: “Freedom of religion or belief is a fundamental right which is part of the foundation of the European Union. The persistent persecution of religious and ethnic minorities makes protecting and promoting this freedom inside and outside the EU all the more essential. I trust that Ján Figel’, our Special Envoy, will help us in this endeavour, sharpening our focus and ensuring that this important issue gets the attention it deserves.”
The appointment comes after the European Parliament called for the initiative in a resolution of 4th February last and the Commission has stated that Mr Figel’ is to present a report in the context of the ongoing dialogue between the Commission and Churches and “religious associations or communities”.
The EU’s European External Action Service (EEAS) – the EU’s diplomatic service – indicates that EU Guidelines on freedom of religion or belief were adopted by the EU Foreign Affairs Council in June 2013, “following broad consultations with specialised civil society organisations, as well as Churches, religious associations or communities, and philosophical and non-confessional organisations”, stating: “In these Guidelines, the EU reaffirms its determination to defend freedom of religion or belief as an individual right to be exercised by everyone everywhere, based on the principles of equality, non-
discrimination and universality. The Guidelines build on the universal definition of freedom of religion or belief and focus on eight priority areas for action, which are of equal importance: violence, freedom of expression, promotion of respect for diversity and tolerance, discrimination, changing or leaving one’s religion or belief, manifestation of religion or belief, support and protection for human rights defenders and support for and engagement with civil society.”
In this connection, it is to be hoped that Mr Figel’ will take up the case of Asia Bibi in Pakistan as a matter of urgency. Asia Bibi’s case was highlighted at the Anglican Consultative meeting in Lusaka, Zambia, only last month, leading to ACC resolution 16.43: “The Anglican Consultative Council (1) stands in solidarity and prayer with Asia Bibi, convicted under the Pakistani blasphemy law 295c, who remains in prison; and (2) urges that her case be re-investigated and that she be honourably acquitted; and (3) stands in solidarity and prayer with other victims of law 295c & d.” (Earlier Gazette report on the Asia Bibi case, 18th December 2015)
The EU’s initiative on global freedom of religion or belief is to be welcomed, irrespective of the differing views on a possible so-called ‘Brexit’ following the UK’s referendum on the subject next month. Indeed, there are concerns about how such a development might affect cross-border business in Ireland, as well as Irish life more generally. Secretary of State Theresa Villiers’ statement to the Gazette last week that, in the event of the UK leaving the European Union, the border could remain the same as it is today (report, page 1), was confidently expressed but many people do remain concerned about the implications of having a European Union land border in our midst if Northern Ireland were no longer part of the EU. The last thing we need on this island is the re-emergence of border checkpoints.
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Withdrawal of CEMS Bill at General Synod
I REFER TO the Commission on Episcopal Ministry and Structures and the Bill that was withdrawn at our recent General Synod.
I’ve been an elected clerical member (Dublin Diocese) of the General Synod for about 40 consecutive years. This, of course, coincides with the same length of time that the Israelites spent “wandering in the wilderness”!
More than once during that time, in various guises, this core question of Episcopal Ministry and Structures has been raised and vigorously debated.
When discussions or proposals to alter diocesan boundaries are put forward, these have resulted in both controversy and divided opinions.
Reflecting on this, I myself have come to the conclusion that this ongoing and unresolved question now needs the employment of some external, professional facilitation if it is to be satisfactorily progressed and resolved.
Even allowing for unpredictable surprises that the Holy Spirit could spring, I remain unconvinced that, within our own structures, we are fully capable of expediting
an all-round and satisfactory resolution.
I feel that the Standing Committee should now give consideration to this proposition about engaging supplementary support through external facilitation. Otherwise I’d fear that this topic on our General Synod’s agenda could continue to be blighted and prolonged by many more years of “wandering in the wilderness”.
Horace McKinley (Canon) Whitechurch Rectory Whitechurch Road Dublin 16
Zulu war memorials
HAVING BEEN fortunate enough to have visited the battlefields of Zululand, South Africa, I have developed an interest in the soldiers who died there during the war of 1879 and have spent the last few years locating and recording memorials which commemorate them.
Therefore, I was wondering whether anybody has any knowledge of such examples within their local parish churches or cemeteries.
In particular, I am hoping to discover ‘unknown’ memorial plaques, windows or inscriptions to men who were killed in action at the Battle of Isandlwana (or ‘Isandula’ as it normally appears) which took place on 22nd January 1879 and which remains the worst-ever defeat inflicted on the British Army by a native force; the massacre occurred just hours before the legendary defence of Rorke’s Drift in which 11 Victoria Crosses were awarded.
Although over 1,300 British and Colonial troops died at Isandlwana, and that a sizeable proportion of them are known to have come from towns and villages from all over Ireland, I
am aware of very few memorials to individual Irish soldiers.
However, I am confident that there must be any number of family memorials scattered around, both within Irish churches and on gravestones outside, and so I would be extremely grateful if knowledge of any such examples could be passed to me.
5 Gwithian Close Torpoint Cornwall PL11 2QR
Appointment of evangelist Emma Bolster Rodrigues
REGARDING YOUR great coverage of Emma Bolster Rodrigues’s appointment to the Tuam Centre of Mission (Gazette, 6th May), the Church of Ireland Gazette actually played a crucial role in this.
Emma was living in Brazil and came over to Ireland for a funeral of a family member.
While in Ireland, she read the Gazette and saw the job advert we ran in your newspaper for a Lead Evangelist for the Tuam
Centre of Mission, felt a calling to apply – and the rest is history! So, we are doubly grateful to you and your wonderful newspaper – many thanks.
Michelle Pellegrino Church Army Communications Of cer
Church Army Wilson Carlile Centre 50 Cavendish Street Shef eld S3 7RZ
Commission members sought
AS READERS may be aware, the General Synod 2016 approved the restructuring of the General Synod Commission for Christian Unity and Dialogue (CCUD).
In light of this and the Synod’s desire for membership of committees to be as broad as possible, we are now inviting submission of names for consideration of future membership to CCUD.
Ideally, persons interested may have suitable qualifications or expertise in the areas of ecumenical work and inter- faith dialogue.
Names may be sent to me on or before 15th June 2016.
Niall J. Sloane (Canon)
Hon. Secretary of CCUD
Church of Ireland House Church Avenue Rathmines Dublin 6
Dr Ed Silvoso controversy
IT WAS WITH great dismay and disappointment that I learned that a minister in the Church of Ireland had invited Dr Ed Silvoso to address a congregation in Co. Wicklow.
As some of your readers may be aware, Dr Silvoso preaches a very negative and unChristian message about LGBT people, particularly gay men.
His claims that we need to be “rewired” to be “real men” are hurtful and dangerous and are contrary to the message of the Church of Ireland which advocates the need for a pastoral and sensitive ministry towards LGBT people.
He also has strong public links and has endorsed the internationally discredited humans rights record of the Ugandan government in relation to LGBT people.
The presence of Dr Silvoso in a C. of I. church would have undermined the work of the Church’s Select Committee on Human Sexuality, which has reached a sensitive and critical time, following the publication of the Guide to the Conversation to enable listening within the Church.
The timing of the event was also ominous, the date in question being the first anniversary of the Same-Sex Marriage Referendum in the Republic of Ireland.
Those in Church leadership are to be commended for ensuring that the invitation to Dr Silvoso was withdrawn.
Ardtullagh Lodge 19 Glenmalure Pines Greenane Co. Wicklow
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