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.