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Address at the Launch of the North/South Schools Link


It is a great personal pleasure for me to be back here in my old school with the British Prime Minister. I am particularly pleased to launch today's North/South Schools Link sponsored by Telecom Éireann and Dell.

Often it is out of a tragedy that an opportunity comes. And so it has been with today's initiative.

The seeds of this link were sown in the weeks after the awful Omagh atrocity last August. Dell had asked me to announce a major expansion of their operations in Ireland, which I was delighted to do down in Limerick, in early September, during the visit of President Clinton.

At that launch, Dell announced they were supplying 100 computers to the benefit of the Omagh community as support following the tragedy.

That donation sparked the idea of linking schools in Omagh with schools in the Republic. Telecom Éireann is already a very generous sponsor of our Schools IT 2000 Programme. The company's chief executive Alfie Kane, who is with us here today, is from Limavaddy in Northern Ireland.

As a Northerner living in the South, he understands better than most the need for us to open as many channels of communication as possible between North and South.

So when Telecom was asked if it would be interested in this project, the company immediately came on board. Likewise with Dell. Brian McBride who is the Vice President of Dell for Ireland and Britain, has strong Irish roots. His mother lives just down the road from here, in my own area of Drumcondra. His company, following its own support for Omagh, was delighted to back this development of the links between North and South.

New technologies are helping to make the world a smaller and better understood place. With technology, thousands of miles and historical divides count for nothing when it comes to instantly sharing ideas and information.

This country is already a world leader, in both hardware and software development which bring people together across long-established divides. It is natural that we should use them ourselves to foster understanding between North and South.

My Government has put a major emphasis on developing the ICT capacities of our schools. As Brother Cashel has said, it was in this very hall last year that we launched one of the world's most ambitious plans in this area and it has already had a significant impact. Since then, there has been a lot of collaboration between the Irish and United Kingdom Governments on schools ICT planning and, together with the Department of Education in Northern Ireland, our two Education departments will be jointly hosting a conference on this area next year.

What we are launching today is hopefully just the start of a special initiative to encourage schools on both sides of the Border to use ICTs to work together and learn about each other. To start the scheme, a total of 200 computers will be given to 50 schools; 25 North and 25 South. The schools will be provided with all the relevant links and supported access to the Internet. Working in pairs, they will be given joint projects to develop across the next school year. As an essential support resource, the teachers involved will be given suitable training, including joint seminars with their colleagues from across the Border.

For our part, we will, through the exchange Bureau, Leargás, make funding available for visits between the schools. As a result of this, the pupils will be able to meet both over the internet and face to face.

I want to thank Telecom Eireann and Dell for their funding of this project. Telecom have already made a major contribution to developing Ireland for the Information Age and schools throughout the country have benefited from their generosity.

Dell is a great international company and a great Irish company, currently giving high-quality employment to 4,000 people. That figure is to rise to 6,000 by 2001.

In conclusion, let me say that the involvement of both companies is a great example of corporate citizenship working for the future of everybody on this island.