Belfast Telegraph

Monday 21 April 2014

Forum task force report faces eight month delay

A task force set up under the Unionist Forum to examine under-achievement among Protestants could take another eight months to complete its report, it has emerged.

The committee, chaired by Belfast PUP councillor John Kyle, hopes to publish an interim document in June.

It will need further work in the autumn before final proposals emerge in October or November.

Mr Kyle said: "I suppose it is a reflection of the fact that those on the committee are busy people with other responsibilities and people we want to talk to are busy with important responsibilities. What we want to produce are practical proposals which have the backing of the broad unionist family and I suppose part of our remit is to look at why this problem has not been addressed and why progress is so slow."

Despite the major investigation several years ago headed by former MLA Dawn Purvis, her ex-party colleague Mr Kyle said: "There is a lot of information already out there but a lot more work still has to be done."

The extended timetable emerged after PUP leader Billy Hutchinson and Grand Orange Lodge chaplain Rev Mervyn Gibson, expressed doubts over the forum set up by Peter Robinson and Mike Nesbitt.

Mr Hutchinson said its impact has been minimal and warned its failure would place "further strain" on relations within the unionist community after Mr Gibson, who is a member of the body, said it is "not working" at present and needs to be properly resourced and administered.

Mr Kyle said: "This problem of under-achievement has been around for decades and it is better to take a few months more than to do a rush job."

Research commissioned a decade ago by the Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister concluded that "the educational non-progressor is most likely to be a Protestant working class male".

Ten years later the report of a working group of academics and community activists concluded more than three quarters of "LTE" (lower than expected) performing schools were in the predominantly Protestant controlled sector, mainly clustered in Belfast.

A socially disadvantaged pupil in a Catholic (maintained) school had double the chance of going to university than a similar pupil in a controlled (Protestant) school.

Background

The Unionist Forum was set up on January 10 – after more than five weeks of violence and disruption over Belfast City Council's decision to reduce displays of the Union flag. Spearheaded by DUP leader Peter Robinson and UUP boss Mike Nesbitt, a 'range of sub-groups was established to consult the public and focus in on a range of underlying issues which, apart from flags and symbols, also included parading, unionist identity and educational under-achievement'.

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