Tuesday 23 December 2014

Editorial: Our forces' plight is a global wake-up call

Published 01/09/2014 | 02:30

Pressure is mounting on Minister Simon Coveney (inset) about the situation in Golan Heights
Pressure is mounting on Minister Simon Coveney (inset) about the situation in Golan Heights

News that Irish troops have been involved in perilous missions to rescue other UN peacekeeping colleagues brings home several realities to all Irish citizens - not least how our brave men and women are putting their lives on the line to protect others.

It forcefully reminds us all what a dangerous powder keg the entire Middle Eastern region is right now as several related conflicts pose a real threat to world stability. It also points up the reality that Jihadis from Ireland are involved in Middle Eastern conflicts, notably in Syria.

Britain and Ireland are now cooperating on assessing this reality and Britain has notably this weekend raised its alert concerning terrorist attack to the second-highest available level.

The series of weekend events also brings into focus the need to review the role of Ireland and the other forces involved in peacekeeping on the Golan Heights between Syria and Israel. For four decades this mission has been relatively clear-cut and about guaranteeing a 1974 truce between both countries.

But Syria's intensely fought civil war and the unpredictable and brutal actions of forces on both sides raise questions about the traditional respect accorded to the blue helmet of the United Nations' peacekeepers. Defence Minister Simon Coveney has already pledged to review the role of Ireland in Golan as soon as the current fraught situation stabilises.

Our Defence Forces have a proud record of involvement in peacekeeping across the globe over six decades, which has done the Irish nation proud and has been widely recognised internationally.

But all peacekeeping missions must be subject to realistic risk assessment.

Ireland is one of six nations with peacekeeping soldiers in Golan. The other participants are Fiji, India, Philippines, Nepal and the Netherlands.

All of these countries must unite on the need for global action on these Middle East conflicts. Ireland in particular must use its peacekeepers' credibility to lobby both at EU and UN levels. All small nations have a duty to be heard in the interests of stopping an developing global calamity.

Big class sizes are now a real worry

From today the bulk of our 3,200 primary schools will be open again and facing into a new school year.

The reality of "back to school" was traditionally never a joyous event for generations of school children. But once back to the routine, most children are eager to face the challenges ahead.

However, as we report today, the latest figures for class sizes strike a none-too-happy note. Seven years ago, one primary school child in every five was in a class of more than 30 pupils. This year, that proportion has increased to one in four children in such classes.

In numeric terms 125,000 pupils are in classes bigger than 30 - up from 96,000 children in the 2006/2007 school year. This has come at a time when everything we know tells us that figure should be heading in the other direction.

The day-to-day reality in schools is that pupils who struggle to learn and who have other difficulties, especially a poor home life, are most likely to suffer here.

For these and other reasons, calls from teacher unions for a debate about class sizes must be heeded.

Irish Independent

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