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Huw Edwards meets the Northern Ireland Minister for Education, Martin McGuinness

HUW EWARDS: Now Northern Ireland has gone and done what many teachers in other parts of the United Kingdom would dearly like to see, the school league tables have been abolished by the Education Minister there, Martin McGuinness. It's been a very popular move, at least with the teachers, but the pace of change in education policy is not being matched by progress in the peace process - though there are some reports this morning, by the way, in the Sunday Telegraph, that the IRA is on the verge of agreeing some kind of new procedure for putting weapons beyond use. Let's go to Derry and wish a very good morning to Martin McGuinness - good morning Martin.

MARTIN McGUINNESS: Good morning to you.

HUW EDWARDS: Thanks for joining us. I just wanted to start off with those league tables because you've been toasted in champagne for getting rid of those by lots of teachers, why did you decide to do so?

MARTIN McGUINNESS: It's because we had a very extensive consultation on what is a very contentious issue, and has been here in Ireland for some seven or eight years, and as a result of that consultation we found that 75 per cent of the people who responded were against the publication of the performance tables. They believed that the tables were divisive, and that they failed to provide schools with the opportunity to present to parents a more rounded view of the school, and so we have moved to discontinue the publication of them and intend now to make it clear to schools that the proper way to provide this information is to provide it in prospectuses to parents and in doing that try to give a more rounded view of all the tremendous work that goes on in their schools.

HUW EDWARDS: Yeah, I mean that's the point isn't it, the more rounded view, because what went before, certainly, and certainly in Wales in my experience, was that reputations about schools were made basically on the basis of hearsay and gossip and they stuck as well, sometimes very unfairly, and the league tables at least gave you some kind of yardstick to go by. Now, are you sure that's been properly replaced?

MARTIN McGUINNESS: Yes, I'm satisfied with the approach that we have adopted, and in fact I'm open to correction also, I'm actually told that there may possibly also be a review of the publication of the tables in Wales. Of course that's a matter for the Welsh Education Secretary, but I certainly think from our point of view we're very determined to provide parents with the fullest information that we possibly can and I think the best way to do it is to, in consultation with schools, ensure that the proper and accurate information is provided for parents examination.

HUW EDWARDS: Are you enjoying the job?

MARTIN McGUINNESS: Well I am enjoying it because obviously we're dealing with many important issues in relation to the education of our children. And we have in the course of recent times dealt with things like lowering the viability criteria for Irish medium schools, for integrated education and obviously supporting all of that very wholeheartedly because we have a duty under the Good Friday agreement to encourage and facilitate that, and we're also dealing with probably the biggest education issue that we've discussed in many, many years, the review of post-primary education - we have this examination here in the Northern Ireland called the Eleven Plus, a system of selection, and that has been highly contentious and we're now in the middle of a wide range of consultation with parents all around the North through a review body, and they will come to me in May with recommendations and this is going to be an absolutely huge debate and we hope to move on to further enhance and strengthen our education system.

HUW EDWARDS: That's a lot of plans, and you know why I'm asking you whether you're enjoying the job because lots of people are saying look, if the executive doesn't last the course, if there's no progress on the peace process, of course you won't be in the job any longer. Now are you concerned that progress is stalled to the extent it is at the moment, or do you give any credence at all to this morning's reports that the IRA might be in the business of coming up with some kind of new agreement on putting weapons beyond use - what's your reading of that?

MARTIN McGUINNESS: Well I think we have to be very careful about anything that we read in the Sunday Telegraph. Certainly from my point of view I am very anxious, and I think all of Nationalist and Republican Ireland wants to see the peace process work, they want to see the institutions that were set up continue with their work. And of course all of the ministers who have taken up portfolios in the institutions, I think have worked very, very hard. That is Republican ministers, SDLP and Unionist ministers have worked well together in terms of agreeing a budget and agreeing a draft programme for government. Now tremendous work has been done and we want to keep that going. Now the big difficulty that we face is that we need to bring about a situation where the - I think - very tremendous statement that was made by the IRA on the 8th of May last year can be worked out to its logical conclusion.

HUW EDWARDS: What does that mean?

MARTIN McGUINNESS: That essentially means that we need to get back to the May the 6th agreement, which was made between the IRA and the British Government, and of course Gerry Adams and myself were involved in very detailed discussions with Tony Blair and with the Taioseach at Hillsborough Castle. Our big problem is that Tony Blair has been unable to fulfil the commitments and promises that he made at that time and so we have seen this awful mess that Peter Mandelson has made of the legislation into what should have been a new beginning for policing -


MARTIN McGUINNESS: - so what we need to see now, I think, essentially is amending legislation which can allow us to convince people within our communities that there really is a new beginning to policing, and allow me as an elected representative, and other elected representatives, to go forward to our people, to encourage our young people to join, what I hope will be a really new beginning to policing in the North.

HUW EDWARDS: Is it your assessment that Mr Trimble's under a lot of pressure and what is your more particular assessment about how he might get out of it and what help you might give it, if I can put it that way, to get him out of that kind of pressure?

MARTIN McGUINNESS: Well we have tried consistently, over the course of recent years, and in fact the IRA have, have made gestures to David Trimble. There is a battle going on within Unionism, there are people, led by Paisley and others, who are opposed to the Good Friday agreement, and unfortunately there are some people within Mr Trimble's own party who are heart set on destroying all of the good work of recent years, so I -

HUW EDWARDS: Do you think that two arms inspections is enough, as far as the IRA is concerned, could they not have done quite a bit more?

MARTIN McGUINNESS: Well you see I think that it's very important to point out that in the agreement that was made on May 6th last year, that agreement was about the British Government, and the Irish Government, providing a context which would allow the IRA to move forward with the commitments and promises that they made, in relation to initiating a process which would put weapons beyond use. Now that is a very forward thinking statement by the IRA. We want that to work, we want the new policing service to be set up, we want the British Government to be involved in a wholehearted process of demilitarisation in areas like South Armagh and other parts of the six counties, and we want to move forward to see armed groups putting weapons beyond use. we had a plan, and that plan was May 6th of last year, we have to get back to that now -

HUW EDWARDS: Understood .

MARTIN McGUINNESS: - all of that .

HUW EDWARDS: Understood. How much of a problem, then, is it that you still have these splinter groups in operation threatening the peace process? How do they fit into the equation and what pressure do you put on them?

MARTIN McGUINNESS: Well I think what we need to do as a matter of urgency is get back to the negotiating table to sort all of this mess out, and that is why we have been involved in discussions with the British Government, with the Irish Government and with the US Government, over the course of recent days, and hope to continue those discussions in the coming days because it is absolutely vital that we neutralise the rejectionists on all sides - and we do know, for example, that now we have had daily attacks on the Catholic community in places like Larne, Ballymena and Coleraine with these terrible pipe bomb attacks and people have been forced out of their areas. The best way to defeat the rejectionists, on all sides in my opinion, is for us to make politics work.

HUW EDWARDS: Thank you very much, that was very brief, commendably brief. Martin McGuinness, thank you very much for joining us.


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