Letters to the Editor

After 200 years integrated education still a work in progress

For nearly 200 years attempts have been made in Ireland to have Catholic and Protestant children educated together.

In 1831 Ireland became the first country in the English-speaking world to have a state-funded nationwide system of schools, the National schools. It was intended that the schools would be attended by both Catholic and Protestant children, with a separate time set aside for religious instruction according to the denomination of the pupils. However, by 1860, under pressure from the Churches, the system had become entirely denominational, with the schools run by the different Churches. 

In 1923 the first minister of education for Northern Ireland introduced the education Act NI. He again wanted to have all children attend the same non-denominational schools, with no religious instruction given during school hours. However, the Churches did not agree. By 1925 an amending statute had been passed allowing the denominational system to continue. The minister resigned.

In 1973 a group of Catholic and Protestant parents in Co Down formed All Children Together. They wished to send their children to schools attended by both Catholic and Protestant pupils. In 1981 they opened Lagan College, the first integrated school in Northern Ireland. It received no government funding for its first three years. Since then 65 more integrated schools have followed, making up just 7 per cent of the total school population.

In 1989 an Education Reform (NI) order was passed giving full legislative status to integrated schools. Article 64 of the order stated: It shall be the duty of the Department of Education to encourage and facilitate the development of integrated education, that is to say the education together at school of Protestant and Roman Catholic pupils. Despite this statement, the increase in the number of integrated schools has stalled over the past decade due to the difficult and lengthy procedures involved in a controlled school transforming to an integrated one.

In November 2016 the Department of Education published a report on integrated education by Prof. Margaret Topping and Mr Colm M Cavanagh. Recommendation 2 proposed legislation that would reiterate “the duty of the DE (enshrined in the 1989 order) to encourage, facilitate and promote integrated education”.

Recommendation 3 specified a requirement that the DE and the Education Authority should “report to the assembly, at intervals of not more than three years, on the implementation of the statutory duty”. If the recommendations of the DE report are enacted into legislation. It will show that bringing all children together in our schools is still a work in progress.

Liam Neeson said recently: “As Northern Ireland moves forward from division, who do we look to for a future we can share? – our children. So why do we continue to educate them apart? Most people agree that educating children together is a better way forward for our society.”

In 1830 the Catholic Bishop of Kildare, James Doyle, told a parliamentary committee: “I do not know of any measures that would prepare the way for better feeling in Ireland than uniting children at an early age and bringing them up in the same school, leading them to commune with one another and to form those little intimacies and friendships which subsist through life.” Who can doubt that the good bishop spoke the truth?

Newtownabbey, Co Antrim


The sad truth is that Stormont has always been doomed

So the elections are past, the conclusions are drawn and new strategies formulated – the parties working feverishly in putting their spin on the results.

The DUP are the biggest losers. They are desperately attempting to hold it together in face of a damning reprimand from within unionism now tired of the constant shadows of both scandal and incompetence that seem to follow the (barely) largest party wherever it ventures.

Mike Nesbitt has fallen upon his own sword. His tactic of cross-community voting, while admirable, was foolhardy and naive. He did not succeed because, put bluntly, unionism is not yet ready to embrace equality.

The Alliance party did well. They provided a refuge for those moderate unionists unable to find succour elsewhere. The growth and strength of the Alliance party will be seen to correspond closely with the inclination among unionists to treat their nationalist neighbours with long overdue respect.

The SDLP barely get a mention. They have become a virtual nonentity, shivering in the shadow of their bigger relative. Unless there are major unforeseen developments in the near future, then the SDLP will dwindle into obscurity.

Sinn Féin, the largest constitutional nationalist party, is riding the crest of an electoral wave.
Observers credit the rise in votes to the behaviour of the DUP and most especially Arlene Foster.

Those votes belong to people who are angry at the corruption and incompetence of Stormont, personified in the DUP. They are angry at the continuing failure to achieve equality. They are angry at the blatant thumbing of the DUP nose towards its nationalist neighbours.

Stormont will restart, eventually, and as with the aftermath of any dispute, there will be a period of relative calm as the protagonists take each other’s measure anew. Sinn Féin has the momentum and increased mandate but what happens when they fail to deliver upon their promises to those who elected them?

Should, and when, Michelle O’Neill et al again encounter unionist intransigence and arrogance and when Stormont again falls at a unionist-built hurdle, how will Sinn Féin explain that to their electorate? The sad truth is that Stormont has always been doomed because unionists are not ready to descend into equality with nationalism.
Until they are we will continue to witness a lame colonial executive limp from one crisis to the next, while we all pay.

Newry, Co Down


Civic pride at low ebb in our cities

I was delighted to see a reduced level of disruption in the university area of the Lower Ormeau Road over this year’s St Patrick’s Day period.
That being said, I was appalled at the level of litter in the area the following morning. Undoubtedly, responsibility for the conditions in the Holylands can be shared between Stormont, private landlords, local residents and businesses and the student population.
Nonetheless, as leaders of the next generation, and as a pure act of goodwill, I believe both universities, through their student bodies, should make greater efforts to remove and recycle litter among the student residences.
As an Ormeau Road native, I would even be prepared to volunteer at any litter picking festival.
Civic pride appears to be at a low ebb across our cities and I encourage all private citizens to pick up empty cans and bottles whenever they are out and to deposit them in an appropriate bin. The universities and students could take a positive and proactive step towards improving the cleanliness of their area and relations with their neighbours. Who cares if someone else dropped it?

Belfast BT5


Defeat push to legalise abortion

I note that David Ford MLA (Alliance) has once again submitted his case for legalising abortion but only, as he claims, for cases of so-called fatal foetal abnormality, a condition which many health professionals say does not actually exist. Worldwide research shows that where these so-called hard cases are used to introduce limited abortion, it is only a matter of time before the abortion lobby begins again its push for abortion on demand, leading to the loss of countless thousands of innocent unborn lives.

I ask readers that if they bravely voted for pro-life parties at the recent elections that they now contact, by every means at their disposal, their elected pro-life MLAs and ask them to vote to defeat this proposed legislation when it comes up for debate.

Limavady, Co Derry


Bias against Mrs May

I wish to complain about the sub-heading reference to Theresa May on The Irish News front page (March 21) which describes her as ‘Britain’s prime minister’.  Actually, whether we like it or not, Mrs May is the prime minister of the entire United Kingdom, so she is our prime minister here in Northern Ireland.

Bangor, Co Down

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