Farren's loss felt in Ulster

February 25, 2000

Northern Ireland's colleges and universities are lamenting the loss of their first further and higher education minister.

The return of direct rule after the short-lived power-sharing executive has meant Sean Farren being replaced by Merseyside Knowsley North Labour MP George Howarth, who already has responsibility for five other departments.

Whereas Farren was in daily contact with his permanent secretary Nigel Hamilton, Mr Howarth only has time to see his senior officials once a week, sources said.

The result is that no major decisions or policy initiatives are likely until the stalemate over arms decommissioning is resolved.

Mr Farren had been considering the need for one or more regional technical colleges - one of the main factors in the economic recovery of the Irish Republic - in Northern Ireland as well as increasing cross-border links.

Mr Farren and economy minister Sir Reg Empney were due to look at adapting the government's 16-19 and lifelong learning initiatives for the province.

Belfast Institute director Paddy Murphy said: "The biggest loss with Mr Farren's departure is strategic planning. We will just have to wait and see if he comes back."

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