“just another stake in a game of sectarian poker..”

UUP leader Reg Empey is predicting an autumn summit to try to address the issues bundled together with the one issue he has identified as being at the core of the Northern Ireland Executive power vacuum. Meanwhile, as the metaphorical tumbleweed blows through Stormont, in the Irish News Patrick Murphy is particularly critical of the bundling of education into that “package deal”.

Education is only one of a number of topics on which the DUP and Sinn Fein disagree. But while policing, justice and the future architecture of Long Kesh are important, they do not rank with education in terms of the long-term impact on individuals, families and society. These other contentious issues have existing administrative systems. The political argument is about if and when change should be introduced.

The problem with education is that the existing system of academic selection has apparently been abolished but no-one knows what will replace it, when or in which schools. Had a replacement model been agreed before the 11-plus was scrapped, the two parties’ abstentionist policy at Stormont would merely cause delay and not utter confusion. If education was the only outstanding issue, there is a chance that it could be resolved on educational principles. But since it is now only one of a number of contentious topics, it has become just another stake in a game of sectarian poker.

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