Creating a shared and integrated society

Peter OSBORNE (Community Relations Council). (c) Allan LEONARD @MrUlster

A discussion on how to create a shared and integrated society was held as part of a concluding reflection on the Holywell Trust’s series of Forward Together podcasts.  The panel was author Julieann Campbell, the commentator Denis Bradley (who was co-chair of the Consultative Group on the Past and former deputy chair of the Northern Ireland Policing Board) and Maureen Hetherington of the Junction, plus myself as the person who conducted the interviews for the 35 podcasts.

We began by listening to highlights from the recordings.  Linda Ervine suggested that the majority of people want to share Northern Ireland, want peace and do not want to go backwards, or support the stalemate politics we have here.

Claire Sugden MLA explained that while we all have our ideologies we need to focus more on improving public services, and that too often the political differences get in the way of this. Fergus O’Dowd TD urged greater educational integration, based on children attending their local schools.

Simon Hamilton argued there needs to be a greater recognition that social reconciliation is a long term, 50 year project.

In her podcast interview, Maureen Hetherington said that while integrated education is essential, there needs first to be greater social integration across society. She added that if more people understood the financial cost of social and educational segregation there would be more support for school integration.

Conal McFeely urged greater support for a human rights framework as the basis for making social progress, which the Good Friday Agreement provided for.  But, he argued, this has still not been properly or fully implemented.  He added that the failures of governance that led to the Troubles are still reflected in Northern Ireland society today.

In the panel debate Maureen urged greater focus on parenting and child development, which requires more support and respect for women as, usually, the main parent.  “We need to start with the children upward,” she said.

The discussion also considered the contribution in one of the podcasts from Andrew McCracken of the Community Foundation of Northern Ireland. He emphasised the class differences within our society, with class and family income often reflected in the different intake of selective and non-selective schools.

Naomi Long had said in her interview that there was a £750m to £1.5bn cost per year of service duplication because services in many cases are segregated.

Interviewees had suggested ways of bringing society together. Peter Sheridan had called for a Department of Reconciliation, Father Martin Magill had proposed a Social Integration Agency, while Peter Osborne had urged a review of the schooling system to reduce costs and promote social integration amongst children.

Denis Bradley responded that parents are determined to get their children into the best academic school, rather than focusing on integration.  “Having said that, it is an absolute disgrace we are wasting about £1bn a year. And the way to sort that is to pull the £1bn out.”

But Denis added that he is optimistic that Northern Ireland will sort its challenges out – in contrast to the situation in England, which is beginning to deal with divisions that are now surfacing.

Maureen warned that too often schools are focused on academic achievement, rather than servicing the needs of all children, including those with disabilities, and are often not helping children to develop beyond education qualifications.

Julieann stressed that increasing numbers of children want more than the schooling system currently offers – especially those children of the very many mixed background families.

This latest Forward Together podcast is available here. The podcasts are also available on iTunes and Spotify.

Further panel discussions will be included in other podcasts to follow over the next three weeks.


  • Holywell Trust receives support for the Forward Together Podcast through the Media Grant Scheme and Core Funding Programme of Community Relations Council and Good Relations Core Funding Programme of Derry City and Strabane District Council.


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