First Minister Peter Robinson has abandoned his vision for a single shared education system which he called for in 2010, it was claimed yesterday.
UUP education spokesman Danny Kinahan was speaking in the wake of the First and Deputy First Minister publishing plans last week for a shared future which included proposals for 10 locations across Northern Ireland where state and Catholic schools would be brought together to share the same new campuses.
However, DUP education spokesman Mervyn Storey hit back, saying that Mr Robinson has led the way on shared education and that it will take time to achieve.
Mr Kinahan said that in 2010 in Castlereagh council, Mr Robinson made a keynote speech which made major headlines, calling for “a single education system”. However, the UUP MLA said this vision was now being strongly undermined by Education Minister John O’Dowd’s “area-based plans” which the UUP says are “clearly dividing schools” into controlled and Catholic maintained sectors, “with integrated education only when it suits”. “The recent Advancing Shared Education report commissioned by the Education Minister recommended legislation requiring that children be educated together,” Mr Kinahan said. “However, we just don’t see this coming from the DUP and Sinn Fein. They have an agreed way forward pushed by the Sinn Fein education minister. There are token challenges made to his plans from time to time but they are not done thoroughly.”
But Mr Storey said that his party leader Peter Robinson has “led the campaign to build a single education system”. He added: “Indeed, it was Mr Robinson who ensured the objective was contained within our Programme for Government even though other parties around the table were not in favour of the concept.”
He said Mr Kinahan is out of touch “if he thinks that sharing is not progressing”. He added: “Mr Kinahan must understand that delivering a single system will not be completed overnight. It will take time and will only be delivered when there is a consensus.
“Danny’s latest statement is not about moving us forward towards greater sharing in education, it’s a backward party political attack on the First Minister. He rushes out nasty and personal attacks on my party yet fails to accept that his party poured cold water on the idea only a few years ago. Danny should also remember that his party led unionism for decades and failed to progress shared education in any meaningful way. Indeed, the UUP didn’t even have single education as a manifesto issue in 2010, so having come late to the table Danny is not in the best position to lecture others.”
He added that the UUP would be better to work with the First Minister to convince those in the education sector who are sceptical of ending the ‘benign apartheid’.