Education and Northern Ireland

Rewriting history

A chara, – A notable feature of recent correspondence in these columns on the subject of segregated or integrated education in Northern Ireland is the absence of any serious analysis of the reasons why the vast majority of the nationalist population, including many secular republicans and socialists, have always opted to send their children to Catholic-controlled schools.

Some seem to suggest that had Lord Londonderry’s vision of non-religious or interdenominational schools been accepted, the North would have been spared the divisions and dissension of the subsequent century. However, it is not unreasonable to suggest that Lord Londonderry (an ardent admirer of Nazi Germany) may have been anxious to inculcate Catholic children with loyalty to the embryonic state and even to encourage them to discard all vestiges of Irish culture.

Equally it would be naive to suppose that a state which discriminated against Catholics in the fields of housing, employment and public administration might have acted differently with regard to the appointment and promotion of teachers and support staff in schools.

Harry Midgley, a former socialist who joined the Unionist Party and served as minister of education in the Stormont administration from 1950 until his death in 1957, introduced many progressive educational reforms. Shortly before his death, at a meeting in Portadown, he articulated what many other unionist ministers had been thinking: “All of the minority are traitors, and always have been traitors, to the government of Northern Ireland”. This mindset was reflected in the fact that Catholic schools never received equal funding to state schools under any unionist administration.


For all their manifest faults, religious orders such as the Christian Brothers and Mercy Nuns placed a high premium on the value of education to their community. They also encouraged Gaelic games and Irish language and culture which were, and indeed still are, largely eschewed by the controlled sector.

Their success can be measured by the fact that, academically, working-class Catholic children in Northern Ireland outperform their counterparts in state schools by a significant margin. School-leavers from a working-class Protestant backgrounds lag far behind their Catholic counterparts in terms of exam success. Some 47 per cent of students in third level education in the North are from a Catholic background, of whom 52 per cent are from working-class families; the corresponding figure for Protestant students is 30 per cent, of whom 32 per cent are from working-class backgrounds.

I would like to see all children, regardless of religion or academic ability, educated together.

The Northern Ireland Council for Education deserves unstinting support for its efforts to achieve this aim.

However, the transition to an integrated system should not involve the rewriting, or ignoring of, history. – Is mise,



Co Down.