“New leader Colum Eastwood has taken pains to say he wants Northern Ireland to work….”

Newton Emerson, with a great comment on an issue raised rather pointed by President Obama [a man now liberated from the burdens of power, and uncommonly free with his views on many thing] which appears to have eluded several other commenters. [Though not our Pete!Ed] :

Integrated education was the example he praised of progress towards a Northern Ireland identity, though many nationalists see that as precisely integration’s problem.

Some of this fear is misplaced ignorance. A common belief that integrated schools do not teach Gaelic games or Irish is wrong and always has been. But nationalists have a point that schools unique to Northern Ireland will inevitably foster a Northern Ireland identity, which challenges those who ultimately do not want Northern Ireland to exist.

It now appears the SDLP has confronted this challenge. New leader Colum Eastwood has taken pains to say he wants Northern Ireland to work. The party’s Assembly manifesto commits it for the first time to integrated education. Obama’s question in London was from the SDLP youth vice-president, who welcomed his answer. A cynic might suspect this was all rather unsubtle as well.

But the majority of Northern nationalists are represented by Sinn Féin, a party that cannot even bring itself to say “Northern Ireland” and whose Minister for Education was found by a judge two years ago to be pursuing “the opposite” of his duty to encourage integrated schools.

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  • Nevin

    “It now appears the SDLP has confronted this challenge. New leader Colum Eastwood has taken pains to say he wants Northern Ireland to work.” .. Newton in the Irish Times

    Newton also refers to President Obama’s earlier anti-unionist rhetoric:

    But there was more time then for Obama to be clear that he sees a united Northern Ireland as the precursor to a united Ireland. His 2013 speech was littered with references to Irishness and the island of Ireland, ending with the words: “This little island, its best days are yet ahead.” He made no references to Britishness – a glaring omission – ..

    Colum is on the same wavelength as the President:

    The SDLP want Northern Ireland to work. We want it to work in a way that allows every citizen to reach their full potential. We are not prepared to sacrifice good governance now in the hope of achieving a pipe dream version of a united Ireland in the future. In fact, we believe that a strong functioning North, with increased co-operation and integration with the Republic, will inevitably lead to unity – a better kind of Irish unity. .. source

    Some years ago I challenged Conall McDevitt to define what he meant by ‘region’. For him, Northern Ireland was a region of Ireland and a region of Europe; I pointed out that it was also a region of the UK. ‘Don’t mention the unionist aspiration’ seems to the style of these constitutional nationalists; unionism is merely a tradition on the island of Ireland.

    Mutual respect for the opposing aspirations just isn’t on the unionist and nationalist agendas.

  • mickfealty

    I agree the SDLP policy cupboard on making Northern Ireland work is a little bare right now, but how would it work without a lot more than grudging respect for aspirations Nev?

  • Declan Doyle

    Like many establishment media commentators; Newton’s oft accurate but habitually lazy style of journalism skins everything down to the point where only Sinn Fein can be blamed for the ills at our feet. The issue for all those who wish to see integrated education become the rule rather than the exception must be to convince parents that non faith based schools are the best way forward; first for their children and then for society as a whole.

    Northern Ireland exists, whether SF wants to say it out loud or not is irrelevant. But Northern Irish society still has a lot of growing up and facing up to do. The SDLP are not going to challenge the right of Catholic schools to exist come hell or high water, and they are aware that making Northern Ireland work needs to be framed around mutual respect for culture, identity, language and religion (or none).

    This is a heavy task and one that involves not forcing the bible down other people’s throats, accepting British and Irish Identity alongside Northern Irish and allowing both traditions, flags, symbols, language and cultural identity to enjoy equal status regardless of the constitutional situation.

    It is very difficult to create the circumstances under which you can ‘teach your children well’ if the adults refuse to recognize with respect and dignity each other’s aspirations and cultural attachments. In order to ‘make Northern Ireland work’, the ‘Do as I say but not as I do’ narrative and behaviour has to be genuinely challenged and replaced through generosity from all sides.

  • colmh

    I think Newton is way off the mark here. Isn’t there polling data that shows the vast majority of people want integrated education?

  • Nevin

    It’s not so much bare as counter-productive, Mick.

    At present, if I can use an equine analogy, the Stormont parties are making a right hames of it. When the unionist and nationalist steeds are not engaged in a tug of war, the DUP and SF horses are hobbled together and the other horses have limited roles. London and Dublin are largely indifferent though Dublin interventions are likely to be partisan.

    The whippletree mechanism could enhance the status of smaller parties by ensuring that DUP and SF MLAs don’t chair committees and the DUP-SF combined strength is less than half the number of committee seats.

    The 1998 constitutional arrangement reinforces division so I resubmit one I made earlier: Regional Autonomy and Shared Sovereignty. To borrow from John Hume, it’s a matter of cultivating the common ground; it will involve a large measure of horse-trading and balancing of special interests.

  • Cavehill

    Parents have been convinced of the merits of non-faith based education. Polling data shows a demand and real life demand for integrated school places often outstrip the places available. Furthermore, there are a number of schools seeking to change to integrated status including a few that are having that blocked.

  • Newman

    A substantial number of tax payers still want a faith based education that is inclusive and open to a more creative form of integration. The present model is limited and with notable exceptions heading towards a model that is ever more secular.

  • Giorria

    Gael Scoil is non faith education too …no hey kids God made it rain today nonsense etc.

  • A prerequisite for faith-based education: scientific proof of the existence of gods. But only the Spiritualist Churches try to collect that evidence.

    More seriously, in 1971 I shared a flat in Epsom with an NI catholic who voted unionist. He predicted that troubles would continue until all sectarian education was ended, and everyone went to the same school. His prediction has stayed true ever since.

    It doesn’t matter how many people want a whole school to be sectarian (as opposed to separate RI classes). It has evil consequences and should be stopped.

  • Zig70

    A common belief about Irish in integrated schools is wrong? Is there evidence to go along with that? Insisting on an Northern Irish identity as a means to suppresses an Irish identity is dead wrong. If the IE sector can’t take note of that latent or not unionists sentiment then it will continue to flounder.

  • Zig70

    Also if you read what Eastwood said it could be read as shared education within faith based schools as in protestants going to Catholic schools. which is how SDLP voters are likely to have read it and is more common west of the bann.

  • Lionel Hutz

    “Would you like your child to be taught in an integrated school” is a question like would you like to see an end to poverty. The polling data means nothing. In reality parents don’t think of integration or equality or anything when it comes to parental choice. They think of one thing and one thing only, “which is the school that will provide my child with the best education possible” for most nationalist’s and catholic’s the answer to that will be their local catholic school which perform better than any other sector.

    There are many questions for politicians and civic leaders arising from that. Why are catholic schools performing better? Why don’t integrated schools perform as well.

    But then we look to the normalisation of society. There are two simple truths here.

    First. It is scandalous that the state controlled sector is seen as a protestant sector. This is partly because of the Protestant transferers. Every state controlled school should be integrated in any normal society. If there are to be protestant schools, they should be run outside state control.

    Second. There is nothing unusual about a state allowing for schools to teach a religious ethos. To deny that opportunity is an unusal step on par with the recruitment rules of the PSNI in terms of being an abnormal departure. But in relation to education, there is not the same imperative to move any policy maker to tale analogous steps as taken with the PSNI.

    In general terms I don’t think that an unusal step curbing any sort of political or religious freedom should be put into place unless required and necessary. It was necessary with the police, it’s not necessary nor even desirable with school’s.

    The new northern Ireland is a place that should embrace difference and celebrate it. There is a place for catholic schools in that.

    I know someone will bring up that they should be privately funded then….but when a school teaches the straight curriculum there is no
    argument that they should be made private. They provide a valuable public service. And to deny funding in those circumstances is a denial of religious freedom

    Integrated schools should be the controlled sector. The controlled sector should be integrated.

  • Teddybear

    What I dislike about integrated education is that I fear it’s a bien pensant Marxian plot to remove God from our schools under the banner of ‘peace’

    Integrated educationalists insult parents who genuinely wish to have their children educated within a school of a particularly Christian ethos

    It seems the godless athiests have the whip in hand over us these day. One can’t turn a tv program on without being confronted with Godlessness, homosexuality, athiesm, paganism masquerading as environmentalism (the Green agenda is really dressed up pagan earth worship)

    One irony is that Marxists protest for gay marriage yet deride heterosexual marriage as patrimonial.

    An integrated secular school has no God present. Where God is absent, in moves the

  • Heather Richardson

    The integrated primary and secondary schools my kids attended were very upfront about their Christian ethos. And of course the NI curriculum for RS (a compulsory subject) is very focused on Christianity, so no NI schools are God-free zones.

  • Heather Richardson

    A quick check of any integrated school’s website will show you what subjects are taught to GCSE and A-level.

  • Ryan A

    That is nonsense. RE is a core part of the curriculum in Northern Ireland, which all schools adhere to. I attended an Integrated College and it was mandatory until GCSE and had quite an active Scripture Union. I’ve never once heard any integrated education lobbyist “insult parents who genuinely wish to have their children educated within a school of a particularly Christian ethos”.

  • Ryan A

    Sounds a lot like ‘Integrated on our terms’. Seems like everyday another lie is uncovered in that manifesto. It’s as well this lot won’t be getting near any ministry that actually matters.

  • chrisjones2

    God left education years ago. All that is left is religion

  • chrisjones2

    what about those who dont?

  • chrisjones2

    Hmmmm in any other context where we had people who held an unproven and irrational believe in an all powerful being from outside the universe who controlled their lives and instructed them what to we might regard the children as ‘at risk’

  • Roger

    Yes, and parents should be told what sports their kids may play too…

  • Roger

    …until it comes to their own kids…
    parents tend to pick what they consider the best school for their kids; irrespective of their own (often contradictory) views on integrated education.

    I have close relatives of one religion who chose to send their kids to a local school of another religion….They could have picked either or neither but picked what they considered the best school.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Do you even know the difference between paganism and atheism?

  • Gingray

    Integrated education in Northern Ireland IS faith based – Christain ethos.


    Integrated education is all well and good in mixed areas, and in Belfast, but in North Down and West Tyrone it ends up being much the same for the majority.

  • Zig70

    I think you have misjudged. It is integration as it happens in the rest of the UK. Normality.

  • Reader

    RE, as a subject, is a different thing from the old style RI, and a reasonably sensitive teacher properly trained in the syllabus should be able to deliver the curriculum perfectly sensibly to children of non-religious families as well.
    #1 son went to an Integrated school and coasted through the RE lessons as a declared Atheist; whereas daughter went to a maintained school where one of the RE teachers was widely regarded as a religious nutjob by her Catholic pupils.
    Where there’s a problem, it isn’t the RE syllabus that’s to blame! (The Free Ps have their own schools, self-funded, where they don’t follow the Northern Ireland curriculum in several subjects, including RE.)

  • scepticacademic

    Yes, and this is highly problematic. Hopefully, the current review will at least recognise the increasing number of ‘other/none’ kids in integrated schools, and perhaps modify the expectation that integrated schools will have a ‘Christian ethos’ by default.

  • scepticacademic

    not sure what Marxism has got to do with it, in case you hadn’t noticed, the socially liberal (and increasingly non-religious) views you appear to despise are now accepted by the majority in most western democracies

  • Teddybear

    Perhaps a majority do support this but morality is not based upon what’s popular but what’s inalienably right and just

    Secondly, just because a majority have a certain view doesn’t mean that the dissenting minority no longer have a right to hold a differing view nor have the right to try to persuade the majority to change their minds

    Finally, while the west maybe going down this godless(aka liberal) road, the rest of the world isn’t

  • Nevin

    As I understand it, NI schools are neither obliged to follow the CCEA curriculum nor to select Christian options:

    Our GCSE in Religious Studies is available as a full course and a short course. Full course students study two of the modules listed below:

    The Christian Church through a Study of the Catholic Church and One Protestant Tradition;

    The Christian Church with a Focus on EITHER the Catholic Church OR the Protestant Tradition;

    The Revelation of God and the Christian Church;

    Christianity through a Study of the Gospel of Matthew;

    Christianity through a Study of the Gospel of Mark;

    World Religions: Islam;

    World Religions: Judaism;

    An Introduction to Christian Ethics; and/or

    An Introduction to Philosophy of Religion.

    Short Course students study one of the modules.

    Loreto College in Coleraine, a non-selective voluntary grammar school: “The AQA syllabus – Specification A is followed: Unit 5 St. Mark’s Gospel and Unit 4 Roman Catholicism: Ethics.”

    Coleraine Grammar School, a selective voluntary grammar school: “At GCSE level everyone is given the opportunity to complete the CCEA course. Those doing the Short course study Ethics while the Full course also study Matthew’s Gospel.”

    Dominican College in Portstewart, a non-selective voluntary grammar school: GCSE- – Pupils study the CCEA GCSE Religious Studies (Full Course) Specification Units 5 [St Mark’s Gospel] & 8 [An Introduction to Christian Ethics]”

    St Joseph’s College in Coleraine, a non-selective maintained school: [not specified on site]

    Coleraine College, a non-selective controlled school: “We offer the NI CCEA RS GCSE. Pupils will cover Christianity through a study of the Gospel of Matthew and an introduction to Christian Ethics.”

    North Coast Integrated College, Coleraine: “The Revelation of God and the Christian Church and An Introduction to Christian Ethics”

    In summary, chalk and different varieties of cheese.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Out of the top 5 schools in this region, I believe that two are Catholic Maintained and one is effectively a Quaker school.

    Certainly there’s going to be some deconstruction of this. There are faith schools lower down the list, and effectively that will be the case.

    I know a person who sat an external exam of one of the “worst” schools, Orangefield, this person did exams in that building for one course and got an A star. I believe Van Morrison got his education there too.

    Certainly there are different talents that can emerge from any school environment, environments that can spur scientists, others great musicians … and perhaps recognizing that in and of itself is an integration

  • Kevin Breslin

    Maybe scientific proof of political ideologies, literary fiction, musical lyrics, artistic interpretations, business studies practices, philosophy, ethics, sporting practices … all kinds of stuff that will be considered aesthetic, subjective, non-factual and opinionated.

    Effectively that would just the STEM subjects, maybe Geography included in them, with no questioning of the truth in these subjects.

    To quote Richard Feynman “I would rather have questions that can’t be answered than answers that can’t be questioned.”

    As a mathematics background, does the desire for scientific proof as a prerequisite not simply go after God, but Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem too?