[Sinn Fein]

2nd March 2002

McGuinness praises contribution of teachers at SF Education Conference

Address by Minister for Education Martin McGuinness to the Sinn Fein Education where the party launched an Education consultation document `Educate that you may be free'

I am delighted to be here today to open this Sinn Fein education conference. Sinn Fein as a democratic organisation takes policy development seriously, and gathers its members and supporters regularly to discuss, debate and develop policy proposals.

This conference today is one stage in the process which started several months ago with the drafting of this document by a group of 20 or so educationalists from our party. I see many members of this group here today. I want to pay tribute to their hard work and commitment and commend them for an impressive set of proposals.

Policy development is a continuous task, and a policy must be seen as a focus and a tool for debate as well as a call to action. I know that this document, 'Educate That You May Be free' has already been the subject of much discussion, and consultation with activists and educationalists inside and outside the party.

This is a very exciting development, and indicates the importance Sinn Fein places on education as an instrument for equality and a tool for building an Irish democracy. I look forward, therefore, to engaging the views of our activists and of the broader community on this important policy.

"Educate that you maybe free'' is a powerful statement and reminds us of the link between national liberation, social liberation and personal freedom. The author of this statement is of course Thomas Davis, an Irishman, a Protestant and a standard bearer for Irish people who struggled for an inclusive Irish identity irrespective of individual religion, class or creed.

Today this definition must include those who feel that they are British, as it must include the 'New Irish', those people who for whatever reason have made Ireland their home.

Education has a major part to play in building that welcoming home.

This policy document should serve as a tool for action for all Sinn Fein activists involved in education. It should advise and guide the work of Sinn Fein elected representatives, of our spokespersons, of republicans involved in the youth service, the trade union movement, the student movement or the community sector, or those involved elsewhere in the great project of education - and of course those members of Sinn Fein who are Ministers of Education!

As importantly this document will hopefully contribute to the ongoing debate on education in both the education community and in the broader society. As Thomas Davis said:

"Educate, that you might be free. We are most anxious to get the quiet, strong minded people who are scattered throughout the country to see the force of this great truth."

I want to use this opportunity to state publicly here my admiration for the teaching profession. As Minister of Education I am acutely aware of the pressures they work under, day after day. And I also know how the pressures are significantly different, and greater, for those teachers working in areas affected by poverty and disadvantage.

In the Six Counties over the past number of years there has been a focus, perhaps a singular focus, on educational outcomes. But I know that teachers make a much, much wider contribution to the growth, development and education of our children and young people.

And some of it cannot be measured, or cannot be measured easily, or even does not become apparent until much later.

And so today I want to express my gratitude for the contribution teachers make to the lives of our young people, and for their role in helping to build a society that is more just, more equal, more democratic.

These values are at the heart of anything we do. When I took office as Minister of Education in the North, I said that education was at the core of government, and of course, equality has to be at the core of education.

I believe this document illustrates the central place of education in our political project, and the central place of equality in education. And I rejoice in the fact that education is becoming an important area of political work for Sinn Fein.

In the Six Counties, the reviews I have put in place - especially the review of post primary provision - go to the heart of the education system and will deliver comprehensive change in that direction.

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