This morning, Wednesday 3rd February, St. Catherine’s College was delighted to be joined by Education Minister, John O’Dowd and South-Tyrone Empowerment Project Co-Ordinator and Human Rights Activist, Bernadette McAliskey in Halla Ó Fiaich for the launch of the Erasmus Plus Project. Sr. Florence De La Villeon, a representative of the RSCJ who is working with migrants in Sicily, was present via video-link. The Erasmus Plus Project involves schools making films collaborating on a dedicated blog to highlight the plight of migrant communities across Europe. Mr Conall Ó’Mairtín hosted the lively debate which involved pupils from the local post-primary schools who study Politics, Sociology and Moving Image Arts grilling the guests on topics ranging from budget cuts, the implications of terrorist attacks on immigration to how to best cater for those affected by migrant crisis.
Students from St. Patrick’s Grammar School and The Royal School, Armagh joined the debate and all students were able to confront the minister with questions of their choice in relation to the refugee crisis.
In relation to Meabh O’Dowd’s question, “What are the panels thoughts on David Cameron’s proposals for a four year ban on benefits for migrants?” The Minister and Mrs McAliskey unanimously agreed that the Prime Minister is not doing enough to cater for those in need of support. In addition to this question, Chloe Traynor’s question, “Education cuts means school budgets have been cut by 3.8% but surely schools need more resources to support migrants?” The Minister questioned where Chloe got her statistical information from in relation to 3.8% as he confirmed the figure was in fact 0.3%. However, St. Catherine’s College Politics pupils aided by Mr. White later discovered that the Minister’s figure related to last year, not this year which was 3.8%.
Sr. Florance, who is currently dedicating her time to helping refugees, offered a unique insight from her perspective into the situation on the ground in Sicily and the challenges arising from the migrant influx from North Africa. She proceeded to explain that the migrant crisis in Italy has been on-going for six years now and that Italy is now well-placed to deal with the new arrivals; she expressed regret that other Eastern European countries had not learned from these experiences and were not in a position to adequately cope.
Mrs. McAliskey used the analogy of the loaves and fish to explain to the crowd that there were more than enough resources to go around although she disagreed that a miraculous intervention was required.
In commenting upon the occasion, Minister O’Dowd praised the enthusiasm of all participants, “Your project is to promote tolerance, respect, diversity, perception and inclusion. Making links with Mount Anville College, Dublin, Sacré-Cour La Perverie, in France and Collegio Santa Magdalena in Spain will be vitally important in helping you meet those objectives. Through those links and new collaborations you will see the issues which are affecting countries throughout Europe, involving thousands if not millions of people. Those issues also touch on us here in the north of Ireland.”
The debate was finalised with Mr Ó’Mairtín thanking the guests, and Sister Florance for their time, along with Mrs Tiffney who concluded with a speech to round-up the debate. Our head girls Sarah Comiskey and Rossa Donnelly presented the guests with a small token of our gratitude with Stephen Farnham ceramic plates depicting scenes of Armagh.
Zoe White – 13H