Integration – can Robinson and McGuinness be serious?

FMDFM’s consultation paper A Programme for Cohesion, Sharing and Integration  reads like a plan for radical transforming action. Not a bit like “ motherhood and apple pie” if I may beg to differ from the esteemed Mark Devenport.  On the face of it, the programme cuts across what most local parties stand for and the very dynamic of local politics. Are we to take it seriously? How can we not, for there it is, boldly in print and signed by both of them?

 Peter and Martin actually embrace the much derided results of Life and Times surveys to conclude unquestioningly that hefty majorities support integration in housing, the workplace and education. They go on to pledge their joint commitment to a non sectarian nirvana .You don’t believe me? Take a look at the commitments, especially the long term ones.


  • Encouraging shared neighbourhoods;

  • Reducing and eventually eliminating segregated services;

  • Tackling the multiple social issues effecting and entrenching community separation, exclusion and hate; and

  • Cultural Identity, including issues around flags and emblems, murals, bonfires, cultural expression, language and popular protest.

Why don’t they shout this from the rooftops? Where to date has been the promised “leadership?” But perhaps we’re too hard on them. Too much harping on  the Ardoyne riots, not enough attention paid to the overall lessening of tension in so many unsung local initiatives? So let’s give the Executive marks for shared spaces, and the gradual grinding engagement over the hot spots.

 It’s when it comes to legislative action, like the inept Public Assemblies Bill that the weaknesses crowd in .

 “Reducing and eventually eliminating segregated services?” Not in education, with the likes of Caitriona and Sammy around, we won’t. If they really mean integration, where is the bold plan to eliminate the vestiges of clerical control over schools and substitute a programme for specialist schools, leaving it to parents to opt for academic or vocational/technological secondary schools, with a Protestant, Catholic, secular or integrated ethos of their choice?

 Yes, we know there’s a gap between vision and reality. How long is long term?   But they’re right to warn we’ll have to do more for less. The programme wrestles with the governance of delivering it all – through the Community Relations Council, partnerships or should we try a new quango? You’d think they were planning a new regime for China instead of our tiny area. We need fewer bodies not more, but with more power.

 In truth politicians haven’t got enough responsibility. They are hemmed in by section 75 (thank goodness) and so much is farmed out to quangos. And when people haven’t got enough to do, they make mischief. For my money, the Executive should take direct charge, the Assembly should scrutinise and the CRC  should act as the watchdog. It’s called government. 

 By now, you may have spotted the fallacy at the heart of the programme that may explain the suspicious ease with which it’s accepted. “Cohesion” etc is about community relations. And to most politicians, community relations are an add-on, a marginal element rather than the driving force behind all policy. Community relations are too narrowly defined. There’s not the slightest hint of irony in politicians defined by sectarian difference championing the choice of integration, no sign that the division they talk about so eloquently might have something to to with the way they conduct politics. 

 Until the parties redefine what politics is about , the cohesion document is so many fine words. Do we really want a shared or a separate but equal future?  Are Peter and Martin pretending to believe  we want the former when they really believe we’ve settled for the latter?  If the former, it has to mean much more than  truces at interfaces and nicely paved town centres. It has to challenge the very basis of political parties and their behaviour. Why not spell out what that means for them in the consultation?





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  • joeCanuck

    can Robinson and McGuiness be serious?

    Ah, you fooled me Brian. I thought you were being serious with your opening remarks. You’re a naughty boy.

  • Hard hat

    Whatever the merits of their proposals, they will be put to an electorate of whom many carry too much historical baggage to buy in. But surely if serious progress could be made on the integration of schools, we can look forward to the days when today’s children become the electorate and the significance of historical baggage will have significantly diminished over time? A completely different landscape much more receptive to programmes to tackle wider integration?

  • joeCanuck

    integration of schools

    That, I think, could be the key to ending the divisions but it would take a generation and the Catholic hierarchy would oppose it every step of the way. Would SF defy them with legislation, what would happen to their electoral support if they did, and would any legislation withstand a Court challenge?

  • Hard hat

    JC: Agree it will take at least a generation but if we continue to raise children as we do, it will be the same old obstacles ad infinitum. Suspect all the churches would fear this (risk to guaranteed bums on pews) and political parties who rely on “traditional voting”. The people need to take the lead. Economics are more likely to be a driver than law. Let those who want segregation have it and bear the cost of having it.

  • Cynic

    Even the few teeth in the document are ‘long term’ when both those who signed will be ‘long gone’

  • Alan Maskey

    Interesting in the first few posts denominational schools are being singled out when, in general, they outperform the heavily subsidized state system. Attacking the Catholic educational system implies the Brothers and nuns who taught the likes of John Hume there were somehow complicit in the violence.
    The old idea of double taxing Catholics – to pay for the shoddy State system and then to pay for their own as well – is not new and will not work.

    People want denominational schools because they deliver the goods. In England, Anglicans convert to Catholicism as it is their only way of getting a proper education. And there is plenty of traffic the other way for the same reason. One has a choice, of sending one’s daughter to an all girls’ RC school where Muslims and Sikhs are allowed jump the queue or send her to a mixed school. Parents vote with their feet. And tax paying parents fork out again, both to educate their own kids and to keep the human zoos of the State schools going.

    One wonders – and doubts – if Robinson and McGuinness are Moseses. (Is that the plural of Moses?)

  • Damian O’Loan

    “People want denominational schools because they deliver the goods. In England, Anglicans convert to Catholicism as it is their only way of getting a proper education.”

    Certain parents lie about their religious beliefs because they want to adopt the academic selection imposed by Catholic schools as it ensures better results than the comprehensive system. Which is an enormously Christian approach leaving nobody behind.

    I think you got a little confused somewhere at the end of your absolutely non-racist post about “human zoos”. Let’s put that with your comments about gay people in the Enlightened and humanitarian category.

    I’d be interested to know what the Catholic ‘values’ that can’t be learned at a non-segregated school are.

    Brian, I’m not sure whether I detect more than sarcasm at the opening, but you were a little coy on the shared future/separate but equal tension. I’d be interested in your comparative analysis. I’ve not much to add to what I put on Pete’s post, except that it did occur to me the strategy may have been written by an unpaid intern at the civil service. And it’s good to see you posting again.

  • Down South

    Surely the document is trying to achieve that balance between detail – which is what we love to focus in on because it stops us getting to real issues – and strategic direction – which is what is lacking. If we go far enough away from day to day reality then we can all agree more easily on what we want to see in common in the future and work back from there to work out how it will be achieved.

    It is blindingly obvious that this is a political deal that is awkward and blunt – yet far enough away from detail to allow people to get to it without disagreeing with its essence. To that extent the CSI is as much about what is not there – what is not up for grabs and the role of the middle classes, the role of political structures, the role of LGBT community, the issue of the past and remembering the past, and even languages are not very well covered.

    That means the document reflects where we are as society – we are not yet committed to a shared future as a people, some people are but have not been able to bring the majority with them and here we have the politicians going back to round up another bunch to bring them into the fold – namely the housing estates and the sites of the greatest source of open conflict on these issues. At some stage in the future they will have to back again and talk directly to the middle classes and get them to go to next steps too – the separate but equal issue (benign apartheid) which is probably the more insidious and long-term damaging society that we all collude with.

    For that the document is not a panacea, it will not achieve consensus on a brilliant shiny Northern Ireland but it is an important waymark in our progress forward. Our job in the next couple of months is to make it a better document than it is now and to ensure what ever comes out of it can be signed up to, committed to, and implemented and scrutinised.

  • Brian Walker

    Lots of interesting generalities here so far. I suggest in today’s jargon that the programme is a mission statement but no strategy, much less a programme for government.This type of writing relies on the bullet point and the making of lists, so often the enemy of analysis in official documents. If the aim is integration how do we get there? Do nothing and whistle? Wait for time to heal or attitudes to fester further? Education and public service delivery at a time of cuts can’t wait for change of some kind, if not for integration in one leap.

    What I wonder are comenters’ priorities for action?

  • Brian Walker

    Damian, Are they serious or not? I don’t know and my piece reflects that. But they signed it and that’s what counts. They should be held to account for it.

    A “shared future” vs “separate but equal” ? This is achoice between joint planning and poltical bargaining. Both mean the end of revolution and counter revolution. The latter means mutual apartheid, unacceptable to me and probably unviable in any kind of modern state. For the former how much sharing is involved? That’s where they have to get down to detail.

  • Down South

    The key difficulty for agreed actions is who is going to decide them and who is going to implement them. It is not viable to head straight to actions without understanding where they are intend to lead you. There will likely not be a consensus on most of what is needed so the only alternative is to go big picture to where people can agree – at a principle level and then work back from there.

    I have not yet seen evidence of a shared conversation – where the whole system is brought together at one time to agree what they are able to work on. Piecemeal strategies will not work on the longer term because they always will miss the elements that represent “events”, the curveballs that derail good intentions, the missed unintended consequences of any actions.

    This strategy implicitly recognises that there is no societal implementation mechanism – this agenda is really as much about the perceptions, commitments, and ambitions of us the people as it is about individual bits of legislation. The idea of forcing us into integrated education, neutral workplaces, and legal pursuance of hate crime is all end of pipe. It has no chance of working unless representatives of major groupings of society who tend to make decisions on all our behalf (OO, GAA, Unions, Community Sector, NGO’s, Councillors, MLA’s, Media) sign up to an agreed way forward.

    Laws represent the floor, the minimum standards, not at all the aspirations of achievement and progress.

    What is crucial is taking the debate away from focusing on fixing problems to getting society working on positive projects. That will help society move forward. Economic development, exploiting sustainability, educational attainment, burgeoning arts and culture, sporting achievement, healthier population, great infrastructure for transport, health, and public amenity. Inward equals status quo – outward focus equals opportunity.

    The document makes reference to some of these but has no ideas about how to bring them together in a cohesive and structured way.

    Of course the Programme for Government should aspire to this bigger picture – but again no consensus and no opportunity for society-wide participation in the goals to be pursued. It’s left to the noisy voices and the technocrats to fill the void.

    Would have thought we are a small enough place to have a decent dialogue. The model of what Derry~Londonderry is achieving through a comprehensive Regeneration Plan which is all encompassing is the model. Early wins are celebrated and mark the staging post for further success.

    To a large extent we have to look to and support the mechanisms that can make change happen on the ground and right now that is not in the Executive – the on-the ground mechanisms are few and far between. If only Invest NI was less focused on call centres and more interested in building a dynamic local economy. If only we had strong local authorities with their own revenue raising ability and directly elected Mayors with executive powers and control of more services, if only we had big business men interested in society prepared to work together rather than parade their ego’s, if only we had a smaller third sector not so dependent on government funding, if only we had a vibrant participation by thousands of people in dialogue and discussion (Slugger is important but needs to be a hundred times bigger).

    My priority would be to acknowledge the difficulties of the differences but to accentuate the similarities in wanting good education, better quality jobs, good housing, healthier population, great arts and culture, innovation coming from Universities. The issue of cohesion and integration would become quickly bypassed because people would be confident. Today they aren’t and that accounts for the defensiveness, the caution, and the introspection.

    A good start point would be to hand the responsibility to society and enable them. A central fund of money (a few million would be plenty to get it under way) that would seed innovative ideas and accessible to anyone would be a great start – they did it in Seattle in the 90’s and achieved in ten years what bureaucrats and politicians couldn’t in thirty. People have the ideas, there is no way to be heard or to act on them. People could propose to manage projects on social integration, economic development, environmental improvement, arts. It’s already been done elsewhere so people can;t start off with – “ah but, that would never work here, we’re different”.

  • Hard hat

    Alan – I don’t understand why you have chosen to focus one one faith alone.

    Separate point – the current system means those who don’t really care, those who don’t understand or those who care but don’t have the confidence to take a new path, are all channelled to segregation by default. Shouldn’t it be the other way round?

  • Damian O’Loan

    Thanks Brian. On what can be shared, I think you have to start with education and then housing. One of the upsides of Cameron’s brutality regarding public housing stock is that it could facilitate accelerating the process. I’d say there needs to be around a 60/40 balance in all major developments within a generation, Shankill or Falls. Ensuring public housing features in all major private developments could also help in that regard. And immigration can only be a good think, if welcomed as it should be.

    But when you’re 60 say, you can’t be expected to uproot and change your social circle, the services you use, where you socialise. Respect for people’s stability is important, so for some separate but equal will be the best possible outcome.

    Which means children and young people must be the focus. This should have some knock-on effect to, with new friends around the house, drop offs in new areas. But this requires integrated education, asap. I don’t see why forbidding religious schools impinges on the right to freedom of religious expression. That there isn’t the political will even to figure annual targets for integration is beyond doubt. So generational change has to be encouraged at Stormont – I’d suggest a two-term limit.

    Adult illiteracy is an urgent and contributing crisis too and needs to be looked at, perhaps as a condition for social security, preferably in an integrated environment.

    I think urbanisation should be encouraged too. God knows that might not be popular with a lot of people, but it makes sense in so many ways and can be used to evolve culture whilst respecting it.

    The divisive issues like parading and the past have to be dealt with as societal conversations. Notably in deprived areas which were the most afflicted and polarised – like the Shankill particpants at the W Belfast festival, with IPJ in attendance. I don’t think a simple celebration of cultural superiority can be maintained in the long-term. So, along with the Irish language, I think parades need to be at zero cost, at least, to the public purse. Possible only through tourism, which offers enough potential for both to thrive, as long as they become more open and future-orientated. This also offers Irish the chance to be more of a living language.

    No military, they can begin to train the police now if necessary where skills are lacking. MI5 oversight. Strict adherence to S75 and no cuts to the Eq. Comm, PONI, CRC. A serious HRC and Children’s Commissioner.

    So, hard targets with individual culpability if they are not met. A one-generation plan to deal with the worst of the problem. No more sops to paramilitary community control. More confidence from the elected representatives. Et voilà for my long-winded thoughts on the possible extent just now. Looking forward to your own.

  • Greenflag

    Moving on time again . Have to say I agree with Ian Paisley’s statement as reported on the BBC . Strange none of the bloggers picked up on his comment.

    It’s the first and necessary step to moving NI to a shared instead of a further divided society . It’s up to people on all sides to choose eternally divisive remembrances or as Paisley Jr says – move on .

    excerpt from the Beeb

    The DUP’s Ian Paisley Junior has told a debate in west Belfast that it is time to move on from the past.

    The MP for North Antrim was speaking at the West Belfast Talks Back debate on Wednesday.

    Asked for his views on a truth commission to address the legacy of the Troubles, he said society could not afford to keep looking back.

    “We can spend the rest of our lives doing this or we can collectively… take our country forward,” he said.

    He was responding to questions on the idea of setting up a truth commission to address the legacy of the Troubles.

    “The people of this society have needs,” he said.

    “The people need jobs, they need opportunities, they need investment, they need this government to work for them.

    “But we can go on talking about the past – we can go on doing that if we want.

    “At the end of the discourse, there are going to be people who will not be satisfied, there are going to be people who will never be satisfied and we are not going to be any further forward.”

  • Alan Maskey

    If you are talking to any of the Paisley clan, tell then I want a truth commission and I want a big slice of it to be devoted to the head of the Paisley clan. I would die happy if his da spends the rest of his life in jail in Holland.

  • Greenflag

    There are many who have always believed or wanted to believe that Paisley’s bark was always there to prevent his bite getting out of control . Whether you believe the man was to blame for the troubles becoming more than they should have become, or whether you believe that he rode the ‘loyalist ‘ tiger to a somewhat peaceful end is up to you .

    Somehow I can’t ever imagine Captain O’Neill nor Chichester Clark nor Brian Faulkner nor Jim Molyneaux nor David Trimble stating that they would have to accept an SF First Minister and work with one if that was the verdict of the ‘people’

    Whether we like it or the more extreme elements within NI Unionism could have been led by personalities who might not have been content to march up and down hills waving pieces of paper .

    Ironically Paisley despite his provocative role at the outset of the troubles probably in the end helped to keep the number of casualties down by attracting those elements within loyalism who might otherwise have taken to the gun 🙁

  • Hard hat

    By far my first priority would be integrated education. Not to say that anyone should be forced down this route; the notion of integration being an optional secondary tier of the system should be reversed. It is often the case that the balance of power rests with floating votes, so to speak, and regardless of how reasonable, logical, constructive and groundbreaking any other proposals may be, detractors need only throw a few emotives into the ring and many retreat to their “own trench”. Changing the experience of children from outset can only serve to render the emotive issues less potent, increasing the extent to which the middle ground comes on board as the integration project extends to more challenging areas such as housing. And this would have been higher on the agenda than the money, time and effort spent on the academic selection issue.

  • Hard hat

    In keeping with the theme, presumably you envisage that this would be an integrated dutch prison. Anyone else you would like to see join him to add a bit of diversity?

  • Fin

    The “government’s” opinion on who I choose to live next to? What next, government legislation on what colour toothbrush I should use and whether I should use y fronts or boxer shorts, and what side I should “hang” on, genitally speaking?

  • abucs

    My first priority would be to fight against Hard hat’s first priority.

    We’ve seem in Europe the best part of a century of the results of state only educational systems under the East European communists. It was an absolute disaster. Ideology trumped education to the detriment of the students.
    Innovation and broad based perspectives dissappeared.

    Of course in the present West such an integrated secular state education would not be controlled by any one group. That is an impossibility (for the moment). Instead it would be reduced to a continual bickering among interest groups for control of the curriculum. Again, a quality education for the young would be a casualty.

    The advantages of having distributed educational sytems is that it much reduces the inevitable arguments over curriculum and shows up any bad performance in one system by comparison to another.

    In the old state “integrated” systems of Eastern Europe they never had that comparison to show them their ideology was wrecking education.

    See Dianne Ravitch’s “Education after the culture Wars” for the dangers of “secular only” educational systems which are producing inferior educational outcomes due to a lack of consensus on ideology.

    The problems of religious free secular education systems.

    An overview of Russian education and the reasons for a move to diversification.

  • Hard hat

    Hence concentrate on early years integration and the rest may evolve naturally. In any case, targets for integration of housing could only apply to provision of social housing – so you could continue to choose to live amongst those whose genitals hang the same way as yours if you so wished.

  • Hard hat

    Can’t we, without removing any of the current options, change the order of priority given to those options?
    Presumably the bickering would be principally Religious Education, History and Irish? Continue to offer them as optional extra-curricular subjects until a common curriculum is agreed. That would focus minds, particularly the churches’.

  • abucs

    Maybe Hardhat.

    I think there is something very healthy though in education when there is diversity. As long as in that diversity one group are not demonising another, but instead are inclusive and respectful which i think is generally the case at present.

  • the future’s bright, the future’s orange

    Integrated education is a no-brainer. No wonder we have a sectarian society when kids as immediate categorised in terms of religion from the age of 4. Personally I’d enforce integrated education for at least 20 years.
    Don’t get me wrong – I have no fundamental opposition to faith schools but let’s face it – we are a weird bunch and to move us forward we need something fairly drastic.

  • Pigeon Toes

    It’s all bullshit… The way most of rural dwellers/culchies always lived.
    And they were not always so keen to fund Integrated schools

  • Pigeon Toes

    Encouraging shared neighbourhoods;

    Reducing and eventually eliminating segregated services;

    Tackling the multiple social issues effecting and entrenching community separation, exclusion and hate; and

    Cultural Identity, including issues around flags and emblems, murals, bonfires, cultural expression, language and popular protest

    Already exist, though probably one cannot apply for Peace funding for the “new” concept. Arseholes one and all…

  • Pigeon Toes

    “vestiges of clerical control over schools”

    Oh and you will all be pleased to know that the Catholic clergy won’t visit Integrated schools, even for children undertaking those Blessed Sacraments.

  • Greenflag

    ‘the Catholic clergy won’t visit Integrated schools, even for children undertaking those Blessed Sacraments.’

    That’s now . As their market share of the gullible reduces you’ll find the RC clergy will change their tune or will have it changed for them .After all half a market share is better than no market share at all .

    You might want to believe it’s all about high standing moral and religious principles but when you scratch away at the veneered surface that is religion – it’s all about revenue stream and the Pope getting his financial dividends and the bishops and cardinals continuing to enjoy their sinecures 🙁

    Give them all the order of the boot and if they want ‘sectarian ” education’ then let them pay for it themselves !.

  • Pigeon Toes

    Mr Pigeon Toes, taking kids for catechism…(taking his lunch hour late so that children could participate in Blessed Sacraments)
    Nun… “I’ll not give you the book, sure you’ll know the prayers so they can learn by rote”
    Mr Pigeon Toes.: “With all due respect Sister, I won’t I’, not a Catholic”
    Nun… Choking actions

  • Pigeon Toes

    Great that kids are Antsiest… Did a good job “with all due respect Sister”

  • Pigeon Toes


  • Pigeon Toes

    Don’t believe in God.;-)

  • Alias

    “Whether we like it or the more extreme elements within NI Unionism could have been led by personalities who might not have been content to march up and down hills waving pieces of paper .”

    Very true, and a form of containment that also characterised the state-sponsored murder gangs who, compared to what the state could have engineered, were well-behaved as ‘anti-state’ murder gangs and are now equally well-behaved as pro-state political gangs. Both of these ilks allowed the state to claim ownership of political positions by allowing said puppets to claim ownership of them, and then manipulating them accordingly. The catholics had to be ‘persuaded’ to accept the legitimacy of British rule and to learn via Pavlovian conditioning that objecting to it had unpleasant ramifications. Allowing its murder gangs to claim ownership of the ‘idealogy’ then allowing the state to redefine it so that it was consistent with the acceptance of its rule rather than rejecting it. Likewise, the puppets on the protestant side had to be led accept the outworking of that redefinition and to accomodate it.

  • Brian Walker

    Look let’s get real – formal integrated education is not a runner because not enough people want it and the Catholic parties won’t contemplate it. And no one can say that Catholic managed schools are doing a bad job, The argument that Catholic schools managment is now redundant becuase of the attainment of Catholic political equality is persuasive to secularists but does not translate automatically to the abandonment of Catholic management.

    But separation is not what it was. Many state schools now have a substantial number of Catholic students. Does the church service them with RE I wonder? ( Yes I know the Catholic ethos means much more – but I only ask – and even that ethos has changed, with almost complete laicisation ). And Prod pupils are welcome in Catholic schools.( don’t dismiss it outright).

    As for general educational reform, I would concentrate on improving standards and on rationalising the secondary schools estate where there are excessive vacant places. The system is vegetating in the present deadlock.

    I would also explore two structural reforms. One, to enhance parental choice by increasing the number of elected governors for all schools, leading to the possibility of removing transferors ( the Prot churches) from controlled schools and making Catholic mangement of voluntary schools subject to regular referenda. Of course, parents might vote for no change as is their right but I would like to keep it open to regular democratic review on a school by school basis…

    Two, I would like to see the end of the exemption from fair employment laws of Catholic schools. But even if the Assembly tipped its toes in that water , they would have a fair old legal fight on their hands. I’d keep raising it though and keep it on the agenda, to encourage creeping integration..Priests and declared Catholic laity could of course stand for election as governors like everybody else.
    However you look at it, it’s along haul and its a nettle the political parties won’t grasp.

  • Hard hat

    Segregation provides agitators with a steady stream of gullible youngsters who have no reason to doubt the garbage they are fed to justify continuing sectarian divisions. Integration would become a significant obstacle to them.
    Yes a long haul and we have already lost 3 years post St Andrews. The sooner this starts, the better. Sad though that there are so many selfish agendas at work in the background.

  • abucs

    “…..making Catholic mangement of voluntary schools subject to regular referenda.”

    No. Why not have regular referenda on the secular nature of controlled schools? Your basic assumption is that secular is the default and that faith schools are an anomaly which will one day be done away with. That is not an acceptable starting point for dialogue.

    “… I would like to see the end of the exemption from fair employment laws of Catholic schools.”

    No. Teaching is a vocation. People who are actually against the Catholic Church are not all simply sitting behind a computer giving us the benefits of their self-declared enlightenment. There are those who roll up their sleeves, get into Catholic education and are actually trying to get rid of it from the inside. Taking away the exemptions will allow such people to openly set up their own secular fiefdoms inside Catholic Education, publicly declare their opposition to the Bishop and plunge the whole system into constant bickering.

    Catholic Schools are set up worldwide and cater to people of all persuasions. There are many Catholic schools in Indonesia and Malaysia for example where 90% of the school population are Muslim. Parents send their kids their for the education. Neither they nor the strongly Muslim governments are worried that their kids will get knocked over the heads and suddenly become Catholic. That is not the experience nor record. Catholic Schools are popular because of their quality of education and the vocational nature of their teachers.