There was a strong turn out at a grand dinner this week in the Lords to celebrate the achievements of the integrated education movement. The feed was sponsored by Frank Carson and attracted a glittering array of supporters ranging from Peter Hain, Peter Brooke, Owen Paterson, Brian Mawhinney and Jane Kennedy to stars such as Frank Carson, Adrian Dunbar and Barry McGuigan – plus me and Mick.
All hosted consummately by May Blood, a stalwart campaigner for the cause, accompanied by two Principals with powerful principles Mary Roulston from Millennium and Nigel Arnold from Glengormley Integrated Primary Schools respectively. They conveyed the passion and commitment that the movement brings out in all the parents, pupils and supporters who both want a decent education and want to make a difference to community relations in the North.
May told the gathering of about 200 people that no one says that integrated is the solution to sectarianism but it is very much part of it. And the huge cost of subsidising so many empty school places cannot go on forever. Its vital that parents are given the option of an integrated school but many just dont have it.
I was until last year the Westminster adviser to the movement so I would say this, wouldnt I but I think that its high time for the issue of integrated education to become much more central in Northern Ireland.
Gary Kent is a graduate of international relations. After spells in management in British Rail and the Co-Op he began work in parliament in 1987 where he was active for two decades on Anglo-Irish peace activity against terrorism and now as secretary of the all-party parliamentary group on the Kurdistan Region in Iraq, which he has visited 27 times since 2006. He used to be a columnist for Fortnight Magazine and writes a regular column for the Kurdish Rudaw outlet and many other publications.