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College merger: sparks fly at Stormont

By Lindsay Fergus

A row erupted at Stormont yesterday when Employment and Learning Minister Stephen Farry and TUV MLA Jim Allister clashed over the future of teacher training provision.

The angry exchange occurred after the TUV leader accused Mr Farry of misleading the Assembly during a debate last year.

He said consultation responses from unions Nipsa and UCU showed staff at Stranmillis were "emphatically and unequivocally against the merger" with Queen's - and contradicted Mr Farry's statement that staff and unions supported the merger.

"Minister, you misled the house," claimed Mr Allister at yesterday's employment and learning committee meeting.

The allegation provoked outrage from the minister who told Mr Allister "that is a very strong statement you are making", to which he replied: "That is what you did."

Mr Farry added: "You made a comment I misled the house... That is unparliamentary."

Bemused committee chairman Basil McCrea tried to intervene, saying: "Minister, minister, let me sort the matter out."

With the rumblings of discontent continuing a frustrated Mr McCrea restored order. "Gentlemen," he said before adding: "I am not sure if the word gentlemen applies. It is unparliamentary language. Can we please move on in a more constructive manner."

During the 90-minute briefing Mr Farry warned committee members that teacher training here could not continue as it is.

Mr McCrea pointed out there are too many teachers being trained, with 95% failing to secure employment in their chosen profession.

"We do not need as many teachers," admitted the minister.

BACKGROUND

Teacher training is delivered by five institutions: Stranmillis mainly prepares teachers for the controlled sector and St Mary's University College traditionally trains teachers for the Catholic maintained sector. Postgraduate training is also provided by Queen's, University of Ulster and Open University.

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