From Marie Cowan, Chair Integrated Education Fund
Whilst ordinary citizens – taxpayers, voters, civic stakeholders – await the formation of a government for Northern Ireland and the presentation of a budget, the scant news we hear from the negotiations is all about sticking points and red lines, broken promises and ‘forgotten’ commitments.
As we approach another Good Friday it’s inevitable that thoughts turn to 1998 and the negotiations which led to the Belfast Agreement – which explicitly included a commitment to growing integrated education in Northern Ireland. Shouldn’t this be on the list of broken promises? It seems to be one of the issues forgotten or abandoned by the powers-that-be.
The number of children and teenagers in integrated schools has grown since Easter 1998. But this is largely thanks to the commitment of parents and of principals and governors who have worked to bring their school’s local community together, by establishing new integrated schools or transforming existing schools to integrated status. Not once has the initiative been taken by government.
If political leaders are committed to the future of Northern Ireland they need to remember the previous promises made regarding educating young people together. There has been, in the past year, an Independent Review of Integrated Education, published in the last minutes before polling closed on 2 March but now ignored by the bigger parties amidst the wrangling and rumours about the future of the Assembly. We need to see a leadership emerge which can assure the public that this review will be properly considered and acted upon.
We have had, down the years, a series of crises, leading to negotiations, resulting in a series of agreements which seem to become the subject of the next crisis. These negotiations down the years have brought too little progress in bringing communities together across traditional divisions. Structures and processes remain which militate against positive change.
The side-stepping of the issue of our divided education system reflects, shamefully, the lack of political will to create a properly shared future.
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