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Scandal of school underfunding

The Irish News view: What kind of society is content to allow children to go without a proper meal at school?

Parents at Gilnahirk PS in east Belfast have been told there will be no hot meals for pupils for two weeks

There could hardly have been a greater contrast.

Last week's Northern Ireland Investment Summit brought together politicians and businesses from around the world in the plush surroundings of the ICC Belfast conference centre.

In between the speeches and sales pitches, hundreds of delegates were treated to breakfast and lunch featuring the very best of local produce before being whisked to dine at Hillsborough Castle.

Meanwhile, just a few miles down the road, the principal of a primary school was being forced to tell parents that their children will have no hot meals for a fortnight and no hot water for at least a month.

David Corbett, of Gilnahirk PS in east Belfast, said they were hit with two major maintenance issues and described it a microcosm of a system-wide malaise.

The BBC also reported that Gilnahirk is not the only school affected by the issue.

"I'm faced with a situation where I can't feed children for two weeks and I can't keep them warm for four weeks at least. That's just unacceptable," the principal said.

No-one could disagree with this statement, nor fail to share a sense of anger at children paying the price of dysfunction at Stormont.

What kind of society is content to allow children to go without a proper meal at school – possibly the only hot food they will receive that day? What further indignity will it require for the DUP to end its pointless boycott and allow a devolved government to get back to work?

Knock on the door of any school and you will hear similar stories of the devastating impact of cuts and long-term underinvestment.

A particularly brutal budget has been imposed on education services in the absence of a power-sharing executive.

Many of the cuts will disproportionately affect the most disadvantaged: holiday hunger payments, Covid catch-up tuition, counselling or special needs provision.

Whatever short-term savings will undoubtedly be dwarfed by the long-term costs to individuals and society through poverty, mental health issues and economic inactivity.

Of course the stated aim of last week's expensive investment summit was to attract new jobs, which could generate growth and more money in the local economy.

But that is little use to children today whose futures are being blighted by chronic underfunding.

A focus on investment is right – but not just in our economy, in our schools, hospitals and the public services we all rely on.



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