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Green Party's presence on business committee shows the Assembly is finally making progress

Letter of the day: Stormont accountability

I note with delight the fact that the Green Party will now have a place on the Northern Ireland Assembly's business committee. This committee is one of the most powerful, yet secretive, parts of the Assembly. It decides what is debated, how speakers will be called in debates and other rules about the operation of the Assembly.

This is the first time that a party other than one of the five main parties will be present on the committee. This is an historic step in Northern Ireland's fledgling devolved Assembly. It has been apparent for many years now that the Greens (and other smaller parties), who were previously part of the so-called 'naughty corner', were the real Opposition in the Assembly. This step will further allow them to hold the larger parties to account.

Since the last election, with the creation of an official Opposition, we see that the smaller parties are the ones offering a real alternative.

Take, for example, a debate on October 4 about openness and transparency in the Assembly. Steven Agnew, the Green leader, proposed the creation of an independent body to ensure that the Executive was abiding by the rules. In contrast, all the Opposition could manage was to call for the First Minister to make a statement.

It's obvious to me that the status quo parties have run out of ideas and that, if we want change, it will have to come from the newer parties.

Their new place on the previously closed shop of the business committee will allow them to bring about this change more effectively.

JOSEPH ELLIOTT

By email

Integrated schools  for all is impossible

In calling for an end to the segregation of children in schools in Northern Ireland, Margaret Marshall (Write Back, December 5) surely echoes a sentiment which would be favoured by very many people.

Although I am fully in favour of educational pluralism, I also support parental choice. I do not subscribe to the view that the mandatory integration of schools will somehow make sectarianism history.

It could be construed from Ms Marshall's letter that those parents who choose denominational education for their children are in some way not genuinely committed to a shared society. It could also be construed that Ms Marshall perhaps favours a compulsory integrated school system for all children.

Does Ms Marshall suggest the forced integrated education, not just of Catholic and Protestant, but also Jew, Sikh, Hindu and Muslim?

A not insignificant point overlooked by Ms Marshall is the fact that in excess of 90% of the population of the North lives in denominationally segregated areas, courtesy of successive unionist regimes. Therefore, even with the best will in the world, attempts to integrate schooling would be a logistical nightmare.

Any solution to sectarianism and schooling must be consensus-based, where difference is not just tolerated, but respected and where all creeds and colours are celebrated.

TOM COOPER

Dublin

Colombia now facing a massive challenge

We have just returned from Colombia, feeling privileged to have been there during a momentous week when the Congress ratified the peace agreement between the government and Farc.

The euphoria surrounding the international media coverage of the peace deal masks the scale of the challenge that must be overcome if the aspiration is to become a reality.

As the prospect of peace looms, paramilitary groups, often serving the interests of large landowning and economic interests, have stepped forward to fill the void, spreading fear within communities. We heard countless testimonies of assassination attempts, death threats, forced displacement and persecution of community activists and trade unionists.

Worryingly, when we met with the army in the region of northern Cauca, the colonels passionately rejected the claims, despite the evidence of our own eyes just a few hours beforehand.

In a country of seven million displaced people, with 60,000 disappeared and 3,000 murdered trade unionists, it is easy to see how intimidatory tactics can be used to control the population and stifle opposition.

The undermining of the agreement through the persecution of community and union leaders makes confidence-building measures imperative. Among these should be the release of political prisoners, pending the operation of the transitional justice provisions contained in the agreement.

The international community has a particular obligation to step up its monitoring of human rights abuses and to urge action to be taken now against the attempts by Right-wing forces to thwart the agreement.

Finally, we would do well to reflect on the role of free trade agreements with countries such as Colombia and to insist on much more effective guarantees on the upholding of human rights and the protection of civil society leaders.

BRIAN CAMPFIELD (PRESIDENT) and KEVIN CALLINAN (VICE-PRESIDENT)

Irish Congress of Trade Unions

Scientists and the evolution of 'truth'

So, BEAGLE (Write Back, December 5) thinks my comments about science changing its 'truths' when they are proved wrong are silly, but he then goes on to lambast creationist websites, which I neither mentioned, nor quoted from.

Perhaps he can tell the person from whose book I quoted the two examples that prove he is silly - i.e. the professor of science and religion at Oxford University, Alister McGrath, who holds Oxford doctorates both in the natural sciences and Christian theology.

If old ideas, which we were assured were true, are abandoned by scientists in favour of new ones, how can they have been true in the first place?

It only tells us that they have discovered new theories, which seem to fit the facts better than the previous ones.

I'm glad Beagle admits science does not know everything, and I would agree with him on that.

I'd also remind him that so many of the early scientists were Christians, who sought to learn more about the world God created, and laid the foundations for science as we know it today.

STELLA WILSON

Tandragee, Co Armagh

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