NI education system a 'form of apartheid', says Robinson

Sat, Oct 16, 2010, 01:00

A CAREFULLY planned 10-year transition to a general integrated education system in Northern Ireland must begin, the DUP leader and First Minister Peter Robinson stated in Belfast last night. The current system was a benign but damaging “form of apartheid”, he said.

Mr Robinson called for a “single educational system” in Northern Ireland and spoke against continuing British state funding for denominational education.

“I don’t in any way object to churches providing and funding schools for those who choose to use them. What I do object to is the state providing and funding church schools,” he said in a wide-ranging speech to mark the installation of Vivienne McCoy as mayor of Castlereagh Borough Council.

He said that “real savings in terms of education will not be gained by simply creating a single educational administrative body but by creating a single educational system”.

“For me, this is not just an economic but a moral question. We cannot hope to move beyond our present community divisions while our young people are educated separately,” he added. Mr Robinson said not many people realised that his first contribution as a speaker at a DUP conference was in favour of integrated education.

“If one were to suggest that Protestants and Catholics would be educated at separate universities, it would be manifestly absurd; yet we continue to tolerate the idea that at primary and secondary level our children are educated separately,” he said.

“I believe that future generations will scarcely believe that such division and separation was common for so long. The reality is that our education system is a benign form of apartheid, which is fundamentally damaging to our society,” added Mr Robinson.

He continued, “Who among us would think it acceptable that a state or nation would educate its young people by the criteria of race with white schools or black schools? Yet we are prepared to operate a system which separates our children almost entirely on the basis of their religion.

Mr Robinson said fundamental change would not happen “overnight” but that was no excuse for further delay in making a start. He said consideration should be given to tasking a body or commission to bring forward recommendations for a staged process of integration.

“Future generations will not thank us if we fail to address this issue,” he said. “The transition must begin and must be carefully planned and programmed. It may take 10 years or longer to address this problem which dates back many decades, but the real crime would be to accept the status quo for the sake of a quiet life,” he said.