Politicians should ‘seize glimmer of hope’ offered by draft Stormont deal

Politicians have been urged to seize the “glimmer of hope” offered to end the crisis engulfing education in Northern Ireland.

Teachers are eight years into industrial action and school budgets are stretched to breaking point.

Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith visited Maghaberry Primary School in Co Antrim the morning after publishing the draft deal and warned that the time for discussions was over.

School principal Graham Gault said: “This is something which should have been delivered three years ago.

“It is unacceptable that we are in this situation at the moment.

“Education and health have been decimated, are in total crisis, so at least today there is a glimmer of hope, but this is not the beginning of a new world just yet – we want to see delivery.”

In 2018 he told a parliamentary committee that parents were donating toilet rolls due to budget cuts, and warned that of “Victorian” conditions.

Mr Smith received a warm reception at the village primary school.

Extra funding for cash-strapped schools is on offer as part of a financial package from the UK Government if the accord to restore the devolved institutions is approved by Stormont’s main parties, the DUP and Sinn Fein.

The Northern Ireland Secretary said: “The package is dependent on the Executive getting back up and running.

“We have gone for three years without government, without politicians taking the right decision, three years where MLAs have been paid their salary.

“The time is up, we need to get back to work.”

Mr Gault said teachers have been taking industrial action for eight years over pay, had a salary offer agreed and have been patiently awaiting its implementation.

“It will be a great relief if this deal goes through and there is an end to industrial action and a pay deal for the teachers which, to be honest, is very overdue.”

The backdated agreement is reported to involve an increase of 4.25%.

Julian Smith said ‘Time is up’ after visiting a primary school in Co Antrim (Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA)

Mr Gault said he was very pleased with the content of the draft Stormont deal published on Thursday evening.

He added: “There is a commitment to ensure that the core budgets within schools will be sustainable; if that promise is fulfilled, I am sure my colleagues will be very, very happy.

“I would love to be jumping up and down and saying thank you to our politicians but they will understand that school leaders are a little cautious at the moment.

“We will jump up and down with pleasure, we will say thank you and well done, when the commitments in that deal are delivered upon and we see an impact for our children.”

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