The inescapable reality is that integrated education is being deliberately side-lined by the Assembly. MLAs from the DUP, Sinn Fein and other parties continue to go to great lengths to find reasons why children should not be educated together.
Last week’s debate on a private member’s bill to progress integrated education exposed the real differences between the rhetoric and the reality.
Of course, everyone thought integrated education was a good idea…. but not now and not here.
The Education Minister, the DUP’s Michele McIlveen called the bill ‘unwelcome and unhelpful’, Sinn Fein said the bill needed ‘serious and significant changes’. Sinn Fein’s John O’Dowd, himself a former Education Minister, spelt out what some of those changes might involve when he claimed ‘The identity in it (integrated schooling) is not neutral – in many of them it is British.’
The Good Friday Agreement placed a statutory obligation on the Executive and the Assembly to facilitate the development of integrated education. They have not only singularly failed to honour that requirement, they have collectively connived to avoid it.
The political power bases which have been secured and developed since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement depend absolutely on a divided and segregated society. That’s the basis of both the DUP’s and Sinn Fein’s joint electoral and political strategy.
‘The DUP / Sinn Fein Coalition has deliberately sought to, not only side-line the principle and practice of integrated education, but to substitute and promote a ‘shared’ education agenda which is little more than a political fig leaf to justify the continued segregation of our children into religious and political tribes and offers no alternative to those parents who want more for their children
Last week’s debate demonstrates, if further proof were needed, that both these parties have taken a decision between themselves to carve up Northern Ireland into two sectarian camps and feed off the fear, mistrust and ignorance that it generates.
When voters opt for DUP, Sinn Fein and similar candidates at the polls this is what they are voting for. Intentionally or not support for these parties is support for segregation, division a denied future, and all that that involves.