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Robinson versus the segregationists

 

Reproduced with thanks to 'amboo who?'

 

By Unionist Lite

Peter Robinson has ruffled more than a few segregationist feathers with this speech to Castlereagh Borough Council on Friday. This is the relevant part where he explains his views on our divided education system:

“In the area of education it has been said that considerable savings could be made with the creation of a Single Education Authority.   I still hope that agreement can be reached in moving away from the five education and library boards to a single authority.  This is not a difference of principle but one of detail and I am hopeful that it can be resolved in the next period of time. However, in the meantime I believe that a simple and speedy solution to achieve savings would be to create a single education and library board under existing legislation and leave the issue of additional powers to another day.

“Moreover, I feel I have to point out that the real savings in terms of education will not be gained by simply creating a single educational administrative body but by creating a single educational system.

“For me this is not just an economic but a moral question. We cannot hope to move beyond our present community divisions while our young people are educated separately.

“Not many of you will believe that my first contribution as a speaker at a DUP conference was on the issue of integrated education – and I spoke in favour.

“If one were to suggest that Protestants and Catholics would be educated at separate Universities it would be manifestly absurd; yet we continue to tolerate the idea that at primary and secondary level our children are educated separately. I believe that future generations will scarcely believe that such division and separation was common for so long. The reality is that our education system is a benign form of apartheid, which is fundamentally damaging to our society.

“Who among us would think it acceptable that a State or Nation would educate its young people by the criteria of race with white schools or black schools?   Yet we are prepared to operate a system which separates our children almost entirely on the basis of their religion.

“As a society and administration we are not mere onlookers of this; we are participants and continue to fund schools on this basis. And then we are surprised that we continue to have a divided society.

“The limited number of Integrated schools in Northern Ireland do offer a choice but more often than not they join in the competition for funds against the other two main education sectors and in truth will never create the critical mass needed to make a real difference.

“I entirely accept that such fundamental change will not happen overnight but that is no excuse for further delay in making a start. I know that we will face difficulties in dislodging the vested interests that are so strong in this sector, but I am absolutely convinced that we must.

“I don’t in any way object to churches providing and funding schools for those who choose to use them.  What I do object to is the State providing and funding church schools.

“The transition must begin and must be carefully planned and programmed.  It may take ten years or longer to address this problem, which dates back many decades, but the real crime would be to accept the status quo for the sake of a quiet life.  The benefits of such a system are not merely financial but could play a transformative role in changing society in Northern Ireland.

“Consideration should be given to tasking a body or commission to bring forward recommendations for a staged process of integration and produce proposals to deal with some of the knotty issues such as religious education, school assembly devotions and the curriculum.  Future generations will not thank us if we fail to address this issue.”

A snapshot of the reactions…

Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness:

“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. “

Donal Flanagan, Chief Executive of the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools:

“He is certainly not speaking as an educationalist because everybody knows that ethos adds value to education.”

“The Catholic Church has also contributed substantial funding and resources for the provision of Catholic schools over generations, and this has ultimately saved the taxpayer money.”

SDLP Leader Margaret Ritchie:

“On the one hand he says the most visionary thing ever said by a DUP politician about our divided society, and then he spoils it with an old-fashioned political sideswipe at Catholic schools.”

The SDLP’s education spokesperson Dominic Bradley:

“Mr Robinson’s comments are an attack on the right of Catholic parents to have their children educated in the ethos of their faith, a right which they have literally paid for down through the years in Northern Ireland.

“He is simply electioneering in nakedly sectarian terms in an attempt to win votes.”

Sinn Fein Assembly member John O’Dowd:

“The DUP do not seek an integrated education system, they seek the end of the Catholic education sector, there is a difference… The Catholic sector provide a school property portfolio of millions if not billions of pounds towards education…”

Jude Collins, Republican journalist:

“So yes, maith thú, Peter,  I think you’ve shown great leadership in this. But I’d hate to think you were tilting at sectarian windmills when there were real, in-your-face sectarian organizations and social patterns stopping the integration traffic on every side.  In a way, though, I’m not that surprised.  Because you are where you are because you do stand on the shoulders of a giant, don’t you? That colourful clerical man who, for so many decades, in his speeches and actions, did all he could to stamp out division and bitterness, and bring us all together.  Or to change the metaphor, the acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

Does Peter Robinson truly believe in the  secular society, where religion is “relegated” out of the public space back to where it belongs, into the private and personal?  I really do doubt it.

However, his motives are to a large extent irrelevant as he has succeeded in opening up a debate here which needed opening up. The ferocity of the reaction he has received has surely proven that those (even self-described “progressives”) who argue for an education system segregated along religious lines know they are on the backfoot morally.

If progress is to be made towards a truly pluralist society in Northern Ireland, then the advantage created here by Robinson needs to be pressed home.

Martin Luther King:

“Segregation is the adultery of an illicit intercourse between injustice and immorality.”

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Filed under: academic, DUP, Education, Shared future, , ,

12 Responses

  1. Progressive Unionist says:

    A brilliant and truly First Ministerial speech by Peter Robinson – starts with the mundane (“lets merge 5 education & library boards into one) – then moves on to the real serious stuff:

    not just an economic but a moral question…. We cannot hope to move beyond our present community divisions while our young people are educated separately… future generations will scarcely believe that such division and separation was common for so long…. our education system is a benign form of apartheid, which is fundamentally damaging to our society…

    This couldn’t be more true. How can there be hope of building a shared society when children are educated separately until the age of 18?

    Robinson continues…

    As a society and administration we are not mere onlookers of this; we are participants and continue to fund schools on this basis. And then we are surprised that we continue to have a divided society.

    No shit! Well done DUP! This speech is ‘First Ministerial’ in the sense of living up to truly leading for all the people of Northern Ireland.

    The transition must begin.. It may take ten years or longer… but the real crime would be to accept the status quo for the sake of a quiet life. 

    ‘The Fierce Urgency of Now’… – if now is not the time then whenever will be? There’ll never be a perfect time, but this is about the single biggest challenge facing those who want to build a shared society.

    Robinson’s taken some flack from the Catholic church today, and from their supporters in the nationalist parties. Going forward, the First Minister needs to make it clearer how Catholic religious education could be accommodated in any new shared NI education system.

    That said, SDLP Leader Margaret Ritchie said it was “the most visionary thing ever said by a DUP politician about our divided society” – while attacking Robinson for “an old-fashioned sideswipe at Catholic schools.

    I reckon many nationalist politicos do feel the need to defend the Catholic-run education system – and their negative comments should be seen in that context. (Like I say, Robinson needs to make it clearer how Catholic religious education can be accommodated)

    – but I also reckon many nationalists are applauding this speech (why else would the SDLP call this “the most visionary thing ever said…” and there’s plenty of political space here to work with.

    If the end result is an integrated schools system where school students go their separate ways for a few hours a week for religious education – while learning together for the rest of the week – well, that’ll be a massive improvement on the educational apartheid that’s the reality right now.

    Well done First Minister!

    • John McMahon says:

      “Going forward, the First Minister needs to make it clearer how Catholic religious education could be accommodated in any new shared NI education system”

      He will need to do a lot more than that.

      He will need to produce cast iron guarantees that there will not be a repeat of the Protestant conduct of the 1831-1859 period – Protestant conduct which provoked the Catholic bishops into turning their backs on the integrated education which they had so much supported.
      Fool me once, shame on you,
      Fool me twice, shame on me.

      He will need to produce guarantees that Catholic children and teachers will not be subjected to assault, insult or sectarian malice.

      He will need to produce guarantees that integrated education is not a Protestant plot to wipe out the GAA in Northern Ireland.

      He could start by removing Protestant privilege within State schools – starting with the statutory right of the Protestant churches to appoint 50% of the voting governors of every State school – including State schools most of whose pupils are the children of Catholics.

      Catholic spokesmen should not defend, they should counter-attack.

      • st etienne says:

        He will need to produce cast iron guarantees that there will not be a repeat of the Protestant conduct of the 1831-1859 period

        lol.

        He will need to produce guarantees that integrated education is not a Protestant plot to wipe out the GAA in Northern Ireland.

        lol.

        He will need to produce guarantees that Catholic children and teachers will not be subjected to assault, insult or sectarian malice

        Could the Catholics who work in the Assembly (nee ‘Orange State’) not do that?

        Some nasty, embarrassing fetishes coming out of the woodwork on this. Ironically highlighting the need to become involved in the rest of society from an early age perfectly.

  2. Progressive Unionist says:

    PS – who posted this post? I’m guessing it was “Fair Deal” but impossible to tell… ?

  3. Free at Last? says:

    Martin Luther King: “Segregation is the adultery of an illicit intercourse between injustice and immorality.”

    and also…


    “my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character…

    one day little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers, I have a dream today…

    we will be able to work together, to Pray Together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together…

    And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

    Free at last! Free at last!

    Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

    ——

    Go for it Mr Robinson! This is a quest worthy of Northern Ireland’s First Minister and bringing our people together is what Unionism is all about.

  4. oneill says:

    Progressive Unionist,

    I posted it; I’m no fan of Robinson but I genuinely think this is the most meaningful comment he has ever made.

    Readers might be interested to read the reaction from the other side, as it were, to O’Dowd, Collins and co- this from the Rev. Mervyn Cotton:

    “I believe that this is the thin end of the wedge to establish a totally secular society and ultimately to destroy Biblical Protestantism in Ulster.”

    You can read his full post here:

    http://tinyurl.com/38z6um2

  5. Segregated education reinforces the notion that Northern Ireland’s two communities are mutually exclusive and will always remain thus. It promotes exclusion, not inclusion.

  6. Progressive Unionist says:

    Good post O’Neill – this was indeed one of the most important (and positive) contributions Robinson has ever made.

    Right now, all this barrage of orchestrated criticism is coming in – nasty headlines on Vatican Radio, attacks from the Catholic hierarchy, SDLP and SF politicos desperate not to be seen to be against the church etc etc…

    But that will calm down, and there’ll be very many thinking nationalists taking Robinson’s speech seriously…

    As for a “where do we go from here” Robinson proposed a high-level commission to investigate the possibility of an integrated education system – so hopefully one will be set up, with representation from the Catholic church and the other churches, from parents, the teachers unions, educationalists etc etc… (anyone got a good idea for an effective chair?)

    – tell em that we’re sick of having a multiplicity of different education systems (RC, Prot/State, integrated, grammars, non-grammars, gaelscoileanna etc etc)… and would they kindly devise a single, inclusive system that could accommodate church needs while ensuring kids are educated together?

    • John McMahon says:

      “Right now, all this barrage of orchestrated criticism is coming in – nasty headlines on Vatican Radio, attacks from the Catholic hierarchy, SDLP and SF politicos desperate not to be seen to be against the church etc etc”

      Is that an admission that most Catholics in Northern Ireland do not want to touch Protestant controlled education with a 40 ft pole? If so, that is progress.

      • st etienne says:

        Actually it was the articulation of the fact it’s the Church hierarchy calling everyone else Orange bigots with not a lot of fuss – and a lot of agreement – coming from the grassroots.

        At least, the grassroots who wish to integrate with the rest of society…

  7. thedissenter says:

    There has been a fair amount of ‘Bish Bashing’ (not thedissenter’s phrase) on Church proposals in ending selection. Timing is everything and it would be ironic if Catholic parents saw the end o for dilution of the Church influence to be welcomed as a means of protecting education *standards* in the schools. There is an open door there.

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