either a farce or we’ve moved very far indeed

Reading the news about the First Minister’s comments about integrated education in Northern Ireland has got me thinking. It really isn’t that long ago since I spoke in a debate, nay, I seconded the motion, at Alliance Party Conference in the Dunadry Hotel, in 2009. The motion was proposed by Alliance Youth, – I was only just a member back then (before being kicked out for being too old). The proposal was that the State should withdraw funding from schools that don’t withdraw religious control on them. In other words, to create a State education sector that was truly integrated, inclusive, and free from dogma which has blighted the Northern Ireland education system for many years.

Now, remember, this was at Alliance Party conference. The Alliance Party loves and promotes Integrated Education.

Well, kind of, it seems that it only wants a third sector of ‘Integrated Schools’ which are controlled by the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education, NICIE. After an extremely passionate debate, the Alliance Party did the unthinkable. Yep, you’ve guessed it, the Alliance Party’s Conference voted down the motion. (This is the farce bit…)

As a bit of explanation of the NI system, for the uninitiated, not only do we have the five Education and Library Boards (for our councils couldn’t be trusted with such an important function as running schools) and the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (looking after the Catholic sector (who refused to come into the State system entirely back in the 1940s)); but we now also have NICIE (for the Intergrated Schools); and Comhairle na Gaelscolaíochta (CnaG) for the Irish medium schools. This does not take into account all the ‘voluntary’ schools that get their funding directly from the Department of Education (for Northern Ireland). This madness has got to stop.

So it appears that we have indeed moved very far indeed for the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party to be calling for integrated education, and yet the Alliance Party will be going on arguing for its ‘third sector’, almost ad infinitum.

Let’s hope that since the First Minister, leader of the DUP, is calling for a Commission to examine schooling, that we do take the courage to do this. My personal views on this are quite simple. If you want your child to have a religious aspect to his/her education, then either:

make sure this is done by your local religious body; or

send him/her to a school not paid for by the State;

after all, the Government of Ireland Act 1920 (10 & 11 Geo. 5, c.67) stated that

5.—(1) In the exercise of their power to make laws under this Act neither the Parliament of the Southern Ireland nor the Parliament of Northern Ireland shall make a law so as either directly or indirectly establish or endow any religion, …

which makes me ask, how the hell the State is paying for Catholic schools now. I know that 10 & 11 Geo. 5 c.67 has been repealed but the schools were being paid for long before that.

I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again, this madness has to stop. It is clear, in the words of the First Minister (and this is the second time I’ve quoted him in 24 hours, slightly worryingly) that

The benefits of such a system are not merely financial but could play a transformative role in changing society in Northern Ireland.

from BBC news

Let’s move this thinking forward, and make Northern Ireland’s schools part of the shared future that we all need in this small, but often troubled, part of the world.

4 thoughts on “either a farce or we’ve moved very far indeed

  1. Couldn’t agree more! If the churches wish to give children a religious education then let them provide Sunday Schools – schools segregated on religious grounds are ultimately agents of division and exclusivity, the last things we need in a modern society. If today’s children are expected to take their place in the adult world, among people of different faiths and beliefs, then the sooner they learn to appreciate and accommodate others’ and their own differences the better.
    In 1974 I was interviewed for a teaching job in a 100% STATE-FINANCED school … and the interviewing panel was the Principal and SIX Presbyterian ministers!!!!! Have things changed much since? I wonder!
    How odd to find myself agreeing with Peter Robinson, I hope this is genuine on his part and not another devious scheme to point-score over the opposition. Time and his actions will tell!!!!

    1. This is not being sectarian. Other churches are up to their necks in the State sector, I propose removing those rights. Or, alternatively, if they want their schools back – let them have ’em! With no funding from the State.

    2. Nothing sectarian about it … unless, of course, you mean that each and every ‘sect’ is involved. In 1923 when Lord Londonderry [Minister of Education in the newly-formed N I Government] proposed a very feasible scheme for secularising education in N. Ireland, it was the Presbyterian Church which largely led the clerical resistance, although other churches, Catholic and Protestant, were hostile and the proposed legislation was amended to the point where the purpose, to secularise education, was lost. What we got was probably the worst of all worlds – the Protestant churches ‘transferred’ their schools to the State BUT they were cute enough to make damn sure they reserved certain rights – the right to sit on Management boards [i.e. to appoint teachers and principals], the right of annual visitation, and should the school no longer be required then ownership of the buildings [which had in many cases been maintained and improved at public expense] reverted to the church that was the original transferor. In effect the only thing they actually transferred to the state was the costs involved.
      Sectarian? Absolutely! Each and every sect was and still is involved, each in their own way, greedily clinging on to their power and influence at public expense!

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