Thursday, 21 October 2010

Northern Ireland's Apartheid

I was astonished to hear Peter Robinson's speech to DUP supporters in which he labelled the current segregated education system a "benign form of apartheid" and to propose a ten year process during which the current sectors should be merged. "Consideration should be given" Mr Robinson argues "to tasking a body or commission to bring forward recommendations for a staged process of integration and produce proposals to deal with some of the knotty issues such as religious education, school assembly devotions and the curriculum. Future generations will not thank us if we fail to address this issue." I say Meryvn Storey was left wondering what was going on, only a short few years ago his predecessor went against this line who was Iris Robinson.

The DUP flip flopping on another issue is not a surprise, though it is much welcomed this time.  I must applaud Robinson having the courage to bring this up and actually start a real discuss on it, my only fear is that like other issues it is all gusto and no delivery. It was interesting to see Naomi Long on the politics show being asked about this, she welcomed the development of the DUP looking at segregation however was cautious about what they intend to do. Highlighting the problems the flawed system currently has.

I must say I agree with Robinson on this topic and if the politicians are serious about a shared future for the people of Northern Ireland this would be at the top of the list for them too. This issue causes great harm to the standing of Northern Ireland on the world stage and damages it economically, socially and politically. Politics here should not be simply about orange and green, unionist and nationalist. This may be seen a pie in the sky idea but if we took the tough decisions and worked through it we can achieve this aim. Ending segregated education would be a step along the way.

I believe the segregated system encourages and indeed continues the great divide between the main communities of Northern Ireland. It must be remembered that it was first proposed by Lord Londonderry in the first Stormont Government in setting up an integrated schooling system however it was the churches who objected. I am not for taking away parents choice and firmly believes this is about increasing the choice, faith based schools have a place but it should not be funded by the state. If the churches and parents want these schools they should pay for it.

However, I would agree with Naomi Long in saying that it is not good enough to simply cut away one sector and expect the state schools to just be able to carry on there needs to be serious reform and discussion within the state sector to encourage this transition. The problem goes all the way to the way teachers are trained at Stranmillis and St. Mary's, surely in the 21st Century we can be mature enough to know this doesn't makes sense not only morally but economically. When we are talking about cuts of about £2 billion coming our way here, addressing the social segregation that existences in Northern Ireland could be making huge savings. Sinn Fein talks about shared future and inclusion however are feared to have any form of sharing it seems, believing more in keeping the status quo. A reminder of the divide that stills existences is the number of so-called ‘peace walls’ which number more today than in 1998.

Unfortunately for the politicians up at Stormont this isn’t the only issue that needs dealt with in order to achieve the goal of a shared suture. It also adds to the long list of the ‘to do list’ for the executive, which seems to get longer instead of shorter by each passing month. For one I will be interested to see what develops from Robinson's words. These are just my thoughts but there is plenty of need to start talking about issues like this in a mature and sensible way to address them and not ignored them.

Aaron Callan

No comments:

Post a Comment