The Northern Ireland Department of Education has cut off funds from an adult education course aimed at spreading peace and reconciliation in a deprived and violent area, writes George Low.
A bursary scheme for mature students from Newry, County Down, to attend the course at Coleg Harlech in North Wales, has fallen victim to the Government's comprehensive spending review because it is run outside Northern Ireland and is not the highest priority.
The decision to cut the course, taken as a result of a substantial cut in the department's budget for student awards next year, was described as "bewildering and deeply disappointing" by the college's acting warden Dave Wiltshire. "Many of these students have come from a background of poverty, unemployment and violence and go on to become successful university students. This progression is emblematic of the Government's priorities of widening participation in lifelong learning and tackling social exclusion. An important element is an examination of the Northern Ireland conflict."
Mr Wiltshire has written asking the department to reconsider "this dreadful decision," pointing out that a class of students from Newry has already been offered provisional places for next year. "To remove their bursaries at this stage would be a cruel and demotivating blow."