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.