Cross-Border Projects

I welcome the Minister of State and I am glad he is present to respond in respect of this matter. During the debate on the Civil Partnerships and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Bill 2009 today, there was a great deal of discussion with regard to republicanism. There are many connotations attaching to republicanism. However, the ability of people to live beside each other and respect each other's differences lies at the core of what true republicanism involves.

Last year, I compiled a report for the Council of Europe on how history is taught in post-conflict areas. I spent approximately 12 months gathering information while visiting places such as Bosnia-Herzegovina and Northern Ireland. The one message that came across to me during that period is that we on the island of Ireland must find a way to respect each other and live together. Education in this regard must begin with young children and must be carried until people reach adulthood. I discovered that teachers must be given the ability to explain the standpoint of those on the other side or in the other community. Educational policies needed to be developed to help that. Strategies needed to be developed to that end. Too often, we think that means we are talking about some other group of people. In reality, the Twenty-six Counties are as bad as the Six Counties when it comes to a lack of perception or understanding of the other community.

I am raising this matter to highlight a short advertisement I saw over the weekend. When I happened to turn on the television, there were two little cartoon characters on the screen. One was playing with a red, white and blue drum and the other one was playing with a red, white and blue baton. They seemed to be having great craic in the playground until they suddenly started to look very scared. The cartoon then cut to two other boys, wearing Celtic jerseys and carrying hurleys, who were coming into the playground. The little lad with the baton threw it into the air in sheer horror. He thought he was going to be attacked. The baton got caught in some trees. Then the little lad with the hurley came racing up. It looked like there was going to be a fight, but instead he used his hurley to get the baton out of the trees for the young fellow — the perceived other person. They ended up playing together in the playground, having overcome their assumptions and presumptions.

After I saw the advertisement, I went on the Internet to find out where this advertisement was coming from. I had noticed the logo of the International Fund for Ireland. It was broadcast on UTV. I discovered it was made as part of a programme designed by Early Years, an organisation for young children. It received €1.1 million in support from the International Fund for Ireland, among others. The project is being rolled out among 5,000 pre-school children, parents and 240 pre-school teachers over a three-year period. It basically embraces Ulster — the North and the Border counties. Those involved are working with young children to increase their awareness of diversity and help them understand what it is like to be excluded or discriminated against.

Hundreds of thousands of euro are spent on peace and reconciliation projects, but this little advertisement knocked me back on my heels because it said so much in such a short period of time. I have discovered that there are five advertisements in total. I have seen the advertisement on the theme of anti-sectarianism. There are other advertisements about race, bullying, Travellers and physical discrimination. They are geared towards three to six year olds. I have discovered that they are being shown for a brief couple of months. I have seen the list of broadcast times. The advertisement to which I refer was shown on RTE during "The Den" on seven occasions between 23 June and 30 June last. I found its message so strong. It has been embraced by UTV, Channel 4 and, to a limited extent, RTE. The Department of Foreign Affairs may well be contributing to this campaign through its peace and reconciliation funding. Serious consideration should be given to increasing the number of times this advertisement is broadcast on television. No one to whom I have spoken has seen it. I would be interested in getting more feedback on it. We can all learn from it. Although the work that goes on in our schools is important, young people and adults who watch television should also be exposed to campaigns of this nature.

Following the three-week pilot programme, it was found that the children involved were more willing to play with others, including some of those who are different from themselves. There was an increase in their ability to understand how being excluded makes someone feel. They became able to recognise instances of exclusion without having to be prompted. I could go on at length, but I do not think I need to. I congratulate the chief executive of Early Years, Siobhán Fitzpatrick. Studies show that by the age of six, one in six children in the North is making sectarian and racial remarks. This project is proving to be right and to be working. We should accept it. An evaluation of it will be formally launched on 13 October. I ask the Minister of State to talk to the Minister, Deputy Martin, about injecting serious money into this project. There should be a good blitz of a campaign here, because it is as valuable to us as it is to anybody else on the island.

I thank Senator Keaveney for raising this matter and giving me a chance to acknowledge the tremendous work being done under this specific programme and by the International Fund for Ireland. The Senator has confirmed that these advertisements, which take the form of short animated messages, were made under a cross-Border programme. The programme in question, Respecting Difference, is part-funded by the International Fund for Ireland, which is an independent international organisation established by the Irish and British Governments in 1986. Its objectives, as set out in its founding agreement, are to promote economic and social advancements and to encourage contact, dialogue and reconciliation between Nationalists and Unionists throughout this island. Since 1986, the fund has received international contributions from the US, the EU, Canada, New Zealand and Australia. At present, the EU and US contribute all of the funding, which is much appreciated. As required by the founding agreement, approximately 75% of the fund's expenditure is in Northern Ireland and approximately 25% of it is in the South. To date, the fund has committed over €811 million to more than 5,700 projects in Northern Ireland and the six Southern Border counties. The board of the fund, which is appointed jointly by the two Governments, comprises a chairman, Mr. Denis Rooney, and six other members, who under the agreement establishing the fund act independently of the two Governments in discharging their decision-making roles.

In February 2008, the board of the International Fund for Ireland approved financial assistance of up to £1.1 million to allow the Respecting Difference programme to be rolled out to over 5,000 pre-school children, their parents and teachers in 240 pre-school settings over a three-year period, across Northern Ireland and the southern Border counties. Atlantic Philanthropies provided matching funding of £1.1 million. The Department of Education in Northern Ireland provided £200,000. Sufficient funding was not available at that time to implement the programme in counties Cavan and Monaghan. However, the board of the fund approved additional funding of €282,625 at its meeting in June 2010 to extend the programme to the two counties. The formal delivery of the programme in Northern Ireland and four of the southern Border counties — Louth, Sligo, Leitrim and Donegal — began at the start of the 2008-09 school year. The programme will commence in counties Cavan and Monaghan in September of this year. Under the programme funded by the International Fund for Ireland, 12 groups have been trained and resourced to service design level in Donegal. Some 25 practitioners and teachers have completed the training and 104 parents have attended parent workshops. The total number of children in the 12 Donegal groups that have been exposed to the programme is 207. The reconciliation fund of the Department of Foreign Affairs has provided funding for 13 further groups to be resourced in Donegal, with at least two members of staff trained from each group.

The Respecting Difference programme originated from a 2001 research study of the attitudes and behaviours of young children in Northern Ireland. The study concluded that sectarian prejudices are present in three year olds, become significant in six year olds and are particularly pronounced in boys. Following the 2001 research, a pilot programme was developed. It was designed to change such attitudes and behaviours in young children, particularly with regard to sectarianism and inclusiveness. The pilot programme was found to have positive effects, and led to the development of the Respecting Difference programme. The programme offers children a range of activities and resources, which aim to increase awareness of diversity and difference issues; help children understand what it feels like to be excluded and thereby encourage more inclusion and understanding of those who are different; make respect for difference a real experience that children can share with their families; provide comprehensive training and awareness seminars for parents, teachers and school management committees; and provide resource packs and specialist support for each group.

As part of the programme, the advertisements referred to by Senator Keaveney are broadcast three times each year — in October, February and May or June — to coincide with each school term. The themes of the cartoons are physical, cultural and ethnic differences. The cartoons are broadcast at various times over a one-week period to catch children and adults. While mainly broadcast on UTV, they are also shown on Channel 4 and on RTE during "The Den". During the most recent run, they were broadcast on RTE on seven occasions over one week from 23 June to 30 June. I understand the promoters intend to broadcast them more frequently on RTE, particularly now that the Respecting Difference programme is being delivered in all the southern Border counties. However, it is a matter between Early Years, which is delivering the programme on behalf of the International Fund for Ireland, RTE and the other broadcasters to agree the terms on which the cartoon messages are shown.

The Senator and I are at one on the merits of the message conveyed and the wish that the series of cartoons and the respecting differences programme as a whole will succeed in addressing sectarian issues in preschool age children at that critical time when their attitudes are being developed. For the Senator's information, the Department of Foreign Affairs, through the reconciliation fund, has contributed €85,000 over a four-year period to support the introduction of the respecting differences programme to additional preschools in Northern Ireland and the Southern Border counties.

I very much welcome the idea that the number of programme broadcast times is to be expanded. If a funding application should come before the peace and reconciliation fund of the Department of Foreign Affairs, while I do not wish to pre-empt anything, I underline that this is the most effective intervention I have come across. I will be a very strong advocate and trust the Department also will recognise it.