The Free Presbyterian Church has said that the pursuit of shared education in Northern Ireland is a front for “ecumenism” and “the secular lobby”.
The statement is made in today’s News Letter, as revelations from interviews by the former head of the Church, Rev Ian Paisley, make national headlines.
In an advert on page 22 of today’s News Letter, the church says that for many years there has been “a concerted attempt to change the thinking of Northern Ireland children, particularly Protestant children, within the state system of education”.
It adds: “We believe that the present pursuit of shared education has more behind it than the saving of scarce resources. There is another agenda at work. Shared education in many cases is a front for ecumenism and also for the secular lobby to influence, change and direct the thinking of children to suit their agenda.”
The church cited a wide range of shared education programmes.
The claims come as Education Minister John O’Dowd yesterday launched a programme for the delivery of 10 shared education campuses, which aim to see state and Catholic schools based on the same grounds in 10, as yet unconfirmed, locations.
The campuses are to be constructed as part of Executive plans launched by the First and Deputy First Minister in May 2013.
One proposed site is the former Lisanelly army barracks in Omagh.
Mr O’Dowd said: “The programme will complement the work already under way on shared education and area planning and will be targeted at infrastructure projects aimed at improving or facilitating sharing initiatives within local schools.
“It will have the potential to bring together a range of schools and aid shared participation in classes, sports and extracurricular activities.”
He added: “Today’s announcement is an exciting development that will seek to identify 10 shared campuses, enabling school communities to come together for the benefit of pupils.”