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6 September 2007 Edition

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The Mary Nelis Column

‘Grannying’ row obscures real issue

Allegations of dishonesty and fraud have been flying across the airwaves of the local BBC Radio station in Derry for the past week, as parents whose children have been denied a place at local secondary schools accused other parents of ‘grannying’, a term used to describe the use of grandparents’ Northern addresses, to access education and other services, by those living in the Donegal side of the border.
The border, that invisible line on a map, that separates Derry from its hinterland in Donegal, is the subject of a legal action brought about by parents who claim that children who live on the Donegal side of this artificial divide, do not have the right to be educated on the other side, even if the school is located next door to their home. The claim is now the subject of a judicial review.
Partition has worked and there are plenty of parents who, like unionists, are prepared to prove legally that the British imposed division of this island, has created two different countries with different people and neither the twain shall meet, even as children.
The practice of cross border interchange of addresses is as old as the border itself. We are all cross border inhabitants. Since the removal of the British Army checkpoints we rarely think of the invisible line on the map as we travel to our holiday homes or caravans or to buy our petrol and lotto tickets. Partition was designed to isolate nationalists in the border areas from their natural lifeline. It was and still is an economic and social disaster. Those challenging the artificial divide by relocation are reversing a situation brought about by partition in the first place.
The expansion of Derry with the demand for housing far outstripping the supply, has forced many families to move while continuing to work and pay taxes in the North. Some even pay double taxation.
The real issue however has been obscured. What is at stake here is not whether children of parents living across the border have accessed places in Derry secondary schools. The real issue is the general discriminatory nature of the eleven plus examination and the resulting limitations of the admissions criteria by the Department of Education under British Direct rule. That’s why Martin McGuinness as Minister of Education in the former Assembly, scrapped it.
 The education system in the North has created a class disparity between grammar schools and secondary schools. The result is that education in the North has failed generations of children whether through class or ethnicity or sectarian identity.
The current situation in which parents are forced to take legal action and teachers and Boards of Governors are being asked to become super snoops to spy on children and their parents is a scandal. It is a bigger scandal that those who relocated across this iniquitous border are being labelled criminals and fraudsters because of a situation brought about by the fraud and deception of the British Government in the first place. No one wanted partition. The border like the 11 plus must go.

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