Northern Ireland news

School principal Jarlath Burns defends Catholic schools after Paddy Kielty's call to end `segregated education'

Tony McEntee and Jarlath Burns at the Irish News GAA Talk Night, at the Lyric Theatre, Belfast. Picture: Cliff Donaldson.
Diarmuid Pepper

A HIGH-profile principal has defended Catholic schools amid celebrity calls to end segregated education.

Jarlath Burns, head of St Paul's High School in Bessbrook, said he did not believe the north's education system caused division.

Mr Burns was speaking following comments by comedian Patrick Kielty who said society must address segregated education and "casual sectarianism".

Most Catholic children are educated at Church-managed schools while Protestants mostly attend those under state control. A small proportion attend integrated schools.

Mr Burns said he was not against integration, but was a supporter of Catholic schooling.

The former Armagh GAA captain acknowledged there were many who believed integrated education could help close the religious divide.

"We are a very divided society. But where I find that I differ from some people is I don't believe our education system is a reason we have a divided society," he said.

"There are Catholic schools all around the world, and they do not contribute to division, in fact they assist in reconciliation.

"I couldn't understand how anybody would believe that a school with an ethos like a Catholic school, could in anyway want to promote division."

Mr Burns said his school was inclusive, adding it hosted LGBT workshops and participated in Pride parades.

"This sends out that very strong message that in a Catholic school we are very inclusive of everyone. And not just inclusive, but we celebrate the difference of our humanity," he said.

"We are a segregated society, but we have people in this school of all faiths and no faith."

Department of Education statistics show that 2017/18, St Paul's had 16 children of `other' faiths and 1,544 Catholic pupils.

"It is the duty of a Catholic school in the six counties to make sure that every child reaches their relationship with their own God," he added.

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