Shadow over Belfast project

21st November 2003 at 00:00
As paramilitaries continue to drive families out of North Belfast, the pioneer of a reconciliation scheme has begun a legal fight to stay afloat.

The Home School Community Project, set up in 1999, has attracted almost 300 adults and run more than 550 courses. Its unique achievement has been to bring working-class adults from both sides of the sectarian divide together for educational programmes. But despite praise from the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, the project is struggling to attract the cash it needs to survive. Founder Daphne Mears has instructed a barrister to seek leave for judicial review of its funding by Northern Ireland's Department for Employment and Learning. She fears she may have to sell her home to clear her debts.

"We've been told the process could take eight months but hope the judge will regard us as an emergency case and speed things up," she said. She is now having to scrap services for people such as the head of a Catholic school who asked for help in finding classroom assistants. Another dismayed by the news is Adrian Thompson, principal of Ballysillen primary. In his north Belfast community arsonists and feuding paramilitaries have free rein, and where a recent survey found 82 per cent of adults had a reading age under nine.

He said many local parents were enthusiastic about developing skills and Ms Mear has met that demand. He said: "Two who have been through the scheme are now working as general assistants. What Daphne set out to do was of great value but now she has had the rug pulled from beneath her."

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