US House of Representatives speaker in London ahead of Ireland trip

Pelosi warns no US-UK trade deal if Belfast Agreement weakened by Brexit

Pelosi warns no US-UK trade deal if Belfast Agreement weakened by Brexit

Pelosi warns no US-UK trade deal if Belfast Agreement weakened by Brexit

Pelosi warns no US-UK trade deal if Belfast Agreement weakened by Brexit

Pelosi warns no US-UK trade deal if Belfast Agreement weakened by Brexit
Pelosi warns no US-UK trade deal if Belfast Agreement weakened by Brexit
  • 2019-04-15 23:10:08 8 months ago
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US House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi said there would be “no chance whatsoever” of a US-UK trade deal if the Northern Ireland peace agreement was weakened by Brexit.

Speaking at the London School of Economics ahead of her visit to Dublin, the Democratic leader in the House said that a US-UK trade agreement would be “a non-starter” if the Belfast Agreement was undermined.

Ms Pelosi, who as speaker is second in the line of succession to the US presidency after the vice president, is the most senior American politician to warn against a trade deal between the two countries if the Northern Irish peace process is damaged by Brexit.

The Democrat was speaking in London as part of a US congressional delegation visit to Britain, Germany, Ireland and Northern Ireland. The delegation travels on to Dublin today when she will meet Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney.

‘Non-starter’

In conversation at the London university, Ms Pelosi stressed in the first instance that getting a trade bill through the US congress was “no given” but said that “if there was to be any weakening of the Good Friday accords that there would be no chance whatsoever – a non-starter – for the US-UK trade agreement.”

Praising the 21-year-old peace deal, the Democrat said that it was not something that could be undermined given how highly the agreement was held by people around the world.

“The Good Friday accords ended, like, 700 years of conflict,” she said.

“It is not just about that geography though. This is not a treaty only. It is an ideal; it is a value. It is something that is a model to the world, something we all take pride in.”

She mentioned how proud former US president Bill Clinton and former senator George Mitchell, who brokered the peace agreement, were of the agreement and how it had to be protected post-Brexit.

“It was hard but it was a model and other people have used it as a model and we don’t want that model to be something that can be bargained away in some other agreement,” she said, referring to Brexit.

Ms Pelosi said that she told British prime minister Theresa May, her de facto deputy David Lidington, Conservative pro-Brexit hardliners and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn during their meetings and conversations while in London that there would be no trade deal if Brexit undermined the 1998 agreement.

“To all of them, we made it clear: don’t even think about that,” she said.

In response, “every single person” told the US politicians: “don’t worry about it – that is a place that we cannot go,” said Ms Pelosi.

Among the politicians in the travelling delegation are Democratic congressmen Richie Neal, the chairman of the powerful House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee that must sign off on any future US trade deal with the UK, and Brendan Boyle, whose father emigrated from Co Donegal to Pennsylvania.

Mr Neal has played a longstanding and active role in the US in building support for peace in Northern Ireland. Ms Pelosi referred to his role in the peace process “for a long period of time”.

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Pelosi warns no US-UK trade deal if Belfast Agreement weakened by Brexit

Will CAO points for law rise or fall this year?

I got 500 points in my mocks and have my heart set on studying law in either UCD or Trinity. The points required last year were 522 in UCD and 533 in Trinity. Do you think the points will come down this year or do I need to widen my course choices?

Firstly, congratulations on securing such a good score. To get 500 CAO points in what is in effect a practice run holds great promise for the exams themselves. I am sure you have reflected on what you learned from the experience of sitting the mocks, and that you will apply this learning in the real exams in June.

You may well secure the additional CAO points to put you in a good place to secure your desired place in law in either UCD or Trinity.

But, if I were you, I would be widen my range of alternate options to allow for all possible outcomes.

The three other universities in the greater Dublin area - DCU, TU Dublin, and Maynooth - all offer law degrees of very high standing.

The two private colleges of DBS and Griffith college also offer law degrees which will enable successful graduates to progress onto Kings Inns and Blackhall Place exams, if you so wish to go down the barrister or solicitor route.

As for whether the points will rise or fall this year, it’s hard to say but there are some indicators.

At this stage in the application process in 2018, 2,477 applicants had placed a law degree as their first choice option.

The equivalent figure for 2019 is 2,687 - an eight per cent increase in first choice applications.

These numbers suggest that law is proving very popular with applicants this year. As a result, CAO points requirements may rise, unless the colleges increase the numbers of places on offer to accommodate the increased demand for places.

As you are aware, this is not the final picture by any means. All applicants have until 1st July to change the order of course choices. Thousands of applicants have not yet entered course choices, so the final numbers for law applications will not be known until early July.

Your safest bet, therefore, is to fully research all the other law degree programmes in the Dublin region, if it is your wish to remain in the capital.

Prior to the 1st July deadline, utilise the full ten course options available to you online in your CAO application.

List them strictly in the order you want them, leaving UCD and Trinity as your first two choices if they remain your top choices.

By fully using the course choices available on your CAO application, you will ensure that in August you will have an offer on your screen when you turn on your computer at 2.00 pm on Thursday, 22nd August.

Have you a query? Email askbrian@irishtimes.com

When schools go rogue: The accountability gap

The Ombudsman for Children, Niall Muldoon, isn’t given to flashy or attention-grabbing public pronouncements. Yet a line from his annual report in 2016 stands out. “The autonomy afforded to Irish schools means the Government has been unable to exercise necessary oversight.”

In essence, Muldoon was making a damning observation: our publicly-funded schools – almost all of which are governed by a board of management – are not sufficiently accountable to the public.

While most parents have little or no interaction with a board of management, they can play a major role when parents are in conflict with a school over the treatment of their child.

Their role is to manage the school on behalf of a patron and ensure an appropriate education is provided for each student.

They also oversee issues such as policy on enrolment, suspension, expulsion or participation by students with special needs.

While boards often play a vital role – on a voluntary basis – in the smooth running of a school, Jim Daly, a former school principal and now a Government Minister, has previously spoken of being “blown away” at the “autocratic” nature of these groups.

The only option available to parents – or, in some cases, teachers – who disagree with board decisions, he has said, is to take potentially costly and lengthy court action.

Bullying

Martina, the parent of a sixth class pupil, has served on a school board at a Catholic primary school. More recently, she found herself in conflict with her daughter’s school, who attends a different school.

“My child faced bullying in school, but the school refused to characterise it as bullying and that meant they didn’t have to enact their policy,” she said. “I was part of putting these policies together but didn’t realise how, by codifying these things, you can be making it more difficult for a school to deal with it.

“I don’t think the board of management were even informed, and it’s very difficult for most parents to access them without going through the principal. Boards are often terrified that they’ll get in hot water, which can cause them to be more conservative and brutal in their policies.”

Ciara is the mother of a boy in primary school who was diagnosed with emotional and anxiety issues. He was frequently and increasingly upset going to school and, often, his distress caused him to vomit just outside the school yard, she says.

Her son was particularly upset to learn that he was being publicly punished for giggling in class, she says.

Ciara was upset when it transpired that he faced three separate punishments over several months for this one infraction, and the boy’s anxiety grew even more, she says.

The board backed the principal. It was like 1950s Ireland; discipline came before the child

“I tried to talk to the principal and teacher but they played down the educational psychologist’s report. The Catholic school management association advised the principal that the public punishment was not appropriate.

“They still wanted to punish my son, but enough was enough. I wrote to the board. I started the complaint procedure. I had to go to meet the principal in the parish priest’s house.

“The priest told me the complaint would go nowhere. He admitted to me that the board didn’t have all the information from the complaint to make a good decision.The board backed the principal. It was like 1950s Ireland; discipline came before the child,” she says.

Ciara’s son ended up missing two months of school and his parents eventually decided to change him to a new school.

Disciplinary issues

A new “student and parent charter” has been promised since 2016 to help tackle issues such as transparency in school boards.

The department says the law will ensure that there is always “open, progressive communication between students, parents and schools”.

Three years later, the charter has not been legislated for and, while there are plans to enact in the coming term of the Oireachtas, it may not be ready in time for the 2019 school term.

Education, meanwhile, accounts for almost half of the complaints which are made to the Ombudsman for Children Dr Niall Muldoon each year.

There is a gap where, if a school goes rogue, there may be no oversight

Many of these are where parents feel the board of management has not performed adequately. Only a handful, however, are fully investigated.

“The essence of our work is local resolution so, once we get involved, it tends to focus on solving the issue locally,” says Dr Muldoon.

“There are almost 4,000 primary and secondary schools where the Government pays salaries, sends out circulars and oversees the curriculum, but don’t have control over the schools. There is a gap where, if a school goes rogue, there may be no oversight.”

Dr Muldoon says the new student and parent charter may help change this and give the Minister for Education a greater role.

“One proposal under the charter is that if my office makes a recommendation – and I always send notification to the secretary general and the Minister for Education – the Minister may have a role in following through, which is not a power the Minister has at present.”

He is careful to add, however, that most boards of management are doing a fantastic job – but a tough one.

“They could do with ongoing training and support. It is more complex than it used to be: GDPR has changed how data is processed, child protection and HR are more complex.

“There could be more training and, while there is a board of management association, there should be something more centralised if we are trying to raise standards in education.”

Councillor

Dermot Looney, a primary school teacher and a Social Democrats councillor who has served on six boards, says it is not the case that boards always back a principal.

“The principal prepares the agenda but doesn’t vote. We deal with various policies including enrolment, bullying, health and safety and phone use. Expulsions come to the board; we didn’t always support the principal’s recommendation,” he says.

Looney says that, while there could be more flexibility, the department has to deal with more than 3,000 boards, and there will inevitably be issues with some.

Boards strive to honestly balance the rights of pupils, parents and the wider school community

“And the removal of middle management posts in schools has not helped alleviate the burden, particularly if there are disciplinary issues which can lead to more cases of expulsion.”

Seamus Mulconry of the Catholic Primary School Management Association agrees that the “vast majority” of boards are doing a very good job.

“There are sometimes situations which are complex and sensitive, but boards strive to honestly balance the rights of pupils, parents and the wider school community,” he says.

“The current system is working, there are elements that need to be improved, but as a rule anything that can be solved locally should be solved at a local level.”

* The names of parents have been changed at their request

School boards: who appoints and runs them?

School boards of management have responsibility for appointing the principal, teachers and other staff in a school.

It is tasked with promoting contact between the school, the parents and the community and has overall responsibility for the school’s finances.

For a school under religious patronage, the patron body – typically a Catholic or Protestant archbishop – approves appointments to the board.

It also typically makes two direct appointments – usually a member of the clergy and the chair.

In schools under the control of other patrons, such as multidenominational Educate Together or Irish-language body An Foras Pátrúnachta, the chair is usually appointed by the patron.

In addition, two parents of children enrolled in the school (one mother and one father) are typically elected by parents, while there is also a principal, a teacher elected by the staff and two extra members agreed by the representatives of the patron, teachers and parents.

Boards are not obliged to release minutes and they usually don’t, even in a redacted form.

Recently, the department has introduced inspections of leadership and learning, focusing on how the school is managed and the board is run, and parents can find this information on the department website (education.ie).

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