Embattled minister hints at fees review

December 10, 1999

Northern Ireland's first minister for further and higher education has taken up office amid controversy over the share-out of executive posts.

Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionists have accused the Ulster Unionist Party of "selling out" the two education portfolios to nationalists after Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness opted to be education minister.

But the Ulster Unionists counter-attacked because the DUP had first choice and could have taken the main education post before Sinn Fein. It appeared to be a deliberate strategy by the DUP, which is entitled to two of the ten executive posts, to embarrass its pro-deal counterparts.

The Northern Ireland Unionist Party has demanded the removal from office of Mr McGuinness after walkouts by pupils in schools.

Sean Farren of the SDLP, the higher and further education minister, has promised a review of student support but warned that the new Assembly is unlikely to scrap tuition fees because "they are not an area in which we have absolute autonomy to change the regulations. Mr Farren said the most important thing was to ensure

students did not suffer hardship. "As somebody who has worked in the sector I am very aware of the problems."

"We have a high level of participation in tertiary education in Northern Ireland notwithstanding the increased cost."

A scrutiny committee has been established to monitor the minister, and its deputy chairman is anti-Agreement DUP Assembly member, Mervyn Carrick.

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