“There can be no greater endorsement of our world class skills and knowledge base…”

I’d welcome Peter Robinson’s call to end state-funding of faith-based schools if I thought he was serious about separating church and state.

But he’s just as unlikely now, as he was then, to intervene whenever a supernaturalist Minister attempts to influence what’s on display in our museums, or at our World Heritage site, or in schools within the Lurgan District Council area.

And what is Sinn Féin’s position on the DUP leader’s de-segregated objective?

The Northern Ireland deputy First Minister, Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness, who’s “all for [integrated education]”, seemed to differ more on the tactics than the apparent objective

“If Peter thinks taking on the Catholic Church, the Catholic bishops and indeed the Protestant churches for that matter and other interest groups is a sensible route to go, I think that is a big mistake,” [Martin McGuinness] said.

“I think what we have to do is try and achieve and continue to build a consensus within our society about the need to develop shared services.

“If you go for a head-on collision with the so-called vested interests, that is a collision course which will lead us into a total and absolute mess.”

His party colleague, John O’Dowd, was more forthright in his views…

The DUP do not seek an Integrated education system they seek the end of the Catholic education sector, there is a difference. The DUP look upon the catholic education sector as conspiracy against the northern state. They seek all our children to be educated in the image of a protestant state for a protestant people.

But then, John O’Dowd also declared that

“Sinn Féin will defend the rights of parents and children to educational choice…”

Unless that choice is for a grammar school education… natch.

As I pointed out at the time, the NI Education Minister’s 2008 “Every School a Good School” policy differed from the UK Labour government’s 2005  “Better Schools for All” White Paper in the latter’s additional emphasis on ensuring “that choice is more widely available to all within an increasingly specialist system, not just to those who can pay for it”.

But as the latest row over education rumbles on, the Northern Ireland First and deputy First Ministers are in Washington, as is the NI Secretary of State – he is the point man here after all…

And while everyone’s doing their best to put a positive spin on things it’s not necessarily the best timing…  As Niall Stanage points out

Northern Ireland has always struggled to make a compelling case to hard-headed business people, being geographically peripheral to the rest of the UK and burdened, for now at least, with a much higher corporate tax rate than the Republic of Ireland.

To try to overcome these disadvantages, its representatives have repeatedly insisted that inward investment might enable a final escape from the legacy of the Troubles.

But the attempt to extract sympathy dollars is made much more difficult by the fact that huge swathes of the US have been hit harder by the Great Recession than has Northern Ireland.

The latest figures released by Northern Ireland’s Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment note that the unemployment rate averaged 7% for the three-month period from June to August.

The US unemployment rate is significantly higher, at 9.6%.

In several huge and politically important states it is higher still: 13.1% in Michigan, 12.4% in California and 11.7% in Florida.

If Northern Ireland were a US state, it would be as well or better off in terms of employment than all but nine of the 50 states in the union.

With the outlook so gloomy at home, American corporations are generally more focused on retrenchment than expansion.

And the US public is in such an unforgiving mood that there is limited space for manoeuvre for even the best-intentioned American politician.

Fine words about peace and prosperity are all very well, but anything that could be seen as an encouragement of large-scale outsourcing would carry serious political risks.

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