In the news

December 3, 1999

After Martin McGuinness's appointment as minister for education in the new Irish executive, Sean Farren will appear a relatively uncontroversial choice as minister for higher and further education, training and employment.

A senior education lecturer at the University of Ulster until last year, specialising in postgraduate courses for teachers, with a BA from University College, Dublin, an MA from Essex and a DPhil from Ulster, he also has a rather more formal education than McGuinness, who left school at 15.

Born 60 years ago in Dublin, he is a fluent Irish speaker and began his career teaching education in Sierra Leone, Switzerland and Ireland, before joining the University of Ulster in 1970. Four years later, he was on the SDLP executive and has been one of its leading thinkers ever since.

He rose to prominence with a stand against Protestants attempting to prevent Catholics attending church in Harryville, Ballymena and was closely involved in the late 1980s in talks with Sinn Fein that later helped bring about the IRA ceasefire.

He was a senior negotiator in meetings leading up to the Good Friday Agreement and took part in the recent review by United States senator George Mitchell of the failure to implement its provisions.

Criticised by Republicans for insisting that the IRA was obliged, under the agreement, to decommission, he has himself criticised Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble for failing to set up the executive earlier.

Among the first to welcome his appointment were the National Union of Students and Union of Students in Ireland, particularly since his party had already indicated its willingness to abolish student fees.

Described by a colleague as "a slightly dour but thoroughly decent man", he is married with a son and three daughters, all of whom were sent to a Catholic school.

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