Ulster loses as peace dividend dwindles

Schools in Northern Ireland may lose their most tangible evidence of peace as education authorities have been warned a Pounds 60 million cash squeeze looms next year.

The sum reflects the cost of policing the province's long hot summer of contentious parades and heightened security following the breakdown of the IRA ceasefire.

The education sector gained an estimated extra Pounds 47 million last year from the so-called peace dividend. Most of the cash went on an extended building programme.

There was extra money also for priority maintenance and for initiatives on raising school standards, and A Good Start which targeted resources on reception classes. Further and higher education also had a share.

Schools had been expecting the extra funds eventually to filter through to individual budgets but that now seems unlikely in the short term. Education minister Michael Ancram said there was no doubt that the revenue soaked up by anti-terrorist action and public disorder would have to come from elsewhere within the Northern Ireland budget. He said: "If the cost of security goes up, that must have an impact in other areas."

The cost of vandalism and arson attacks on the province's schools over the summer has already been put at more than Pounds 3 million.

David Allen, of the Northern Ireland Teachers Council, said: "We are not going to have a sympathetic government when it comes to Northern Ireland if a political settlement is not reached."

The department insists the outcome of the present public expenditure round will not be known until December, but projected figures show the five area boards facing cuts for the next three years.

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