All sides involved in trying to resolve the Holy Cross school dispute owe it to the children to build on the breakthrough that has been made, Stormont Deputy First Minister Mark Durkan said tonight.
The SDLP leader told pupils, parents and staff at St Roses High School’s annual prize giving in Belfast, that the efforts by Northern Ireland’s power sharing government to resolve the dispute in Ardoyne, in the north of the city, proved that ministers were not participating in a ‘‘see nothing, do nothing executive.
"When people look to us for help we will not look away.
"What struck me most during the past week in relation to north Belfast was the sincere wish of everyone concerned to see an end to the terrible scenes being enacted each morning and the growing damage being done to children and families in both communities.
"Our primary aim was to end the suffering of the children and to show that we were willing to address the other issues.
"Our approach was systematic, inclusive and open - there were no surprises - and no-one was left out of the loop.
"But our efforts would not have been successful if there was not a wish for peace on the ground.
"Now we must build on what we have achieved, encourage dialogue and the growth of trust and bring new hope and opportunity to all the people in north Belfast - to all the people, but especially the children.’’
Mr Durkan said the executive placed the needs of children at the top of its agenda in its Programme for Government.
That was why a Commissioner for Children was being appointed next year and a 10-year strategy for children in the province was being developed, he said.
The Deputy First Minister also stressed the importance of the recent review of post-primary education commissioned by Stormont Education Minister Martin McGuinness.
He urged all parents, teachers and pupils to make sure they had their say in the debate following the recently published Burns Report on post-primary education.
He observed: "It has been striking that in all the public comments so far, no-one has argued purely for the status quo (the 11+).
"Everyone accepts that our current educational system does not meet the needs of all our children.
"It will be no easy task to produce an educational system, which both meets the needs of all our children and has the necessary political support and consensus behind it to enable real and meaningful change to take place.
"But let us accept the challenge and aim high. We have the opportunity to develop something different, something unique to meet the needs of people here."
Mr Durkan urged educationalists not to be "trammelled" by what was taking place in schools in Britain or elsewhere.
He urged them to shape a system which respected the human rights of all children and which promoted equality and inclusion, respect and tolerance.
The SDLP leader was welcomed to St Roses High School in west Belfast by the school principal Sister Helen O’Dwyer and the chairperson of the Board of Governors, Miss Anne McGrath.
He paid tribute to those teachers and pupils at the school who had helped raise standards and said it was important to recognise their achievements which came as a result of hard work.