School principal slams UUP for failing to use Petition of Concern to block Alliance Party Integrated Education Bill

A Kilkeel Primary School Principal says the Integrated Education Bill passed by MLAs this week will deliberately disadvantage his sector and that in failing to block it the UUP has let down a huge swathe of their support base.

Michael Peacock, Principal of Brackenagh West Primary School in Kilkeel, was speaking after MLAs passed an Alliance Party bill 49:38 this week which requires the Department of Education to give more support to integrated education.

An attempt by the DUP to block the Bill using a petition of concern (PoC) failed when the UUP refused to back the Assembly veto mechanism, even though UUP leader Doug Beattie voted against the bill.

Mr Peacock said: “I am disappointed with this Bill, not because I am opposed to integrated education, but because it deliberately disadvantages our controlled school sector.”

Michael Peacock, Principal of Brackenagh West Primary School in Kilkeel, has spoken out abou the Integrated Education Bill passed by Stormont.

He noted the Deptartment of Education said the bill “treats integrated education differently, not equitably, as has been suggested, but differently, to the extent that integrated education …… would be elevated above all other sectors”.

In addition, he noted, the Education Authority said the bill requirements “appear to be demanding and potentially discriminatory, in view of the preferential treatment implied for one sector as compared with all others. There is a concern regarding the resources which would be required.”

Mr Peacock thanked the TUV and DUP for opposing the bill to “protect the interests of the controlled sector” through a PoC.

“Unfortunately, their counterparts in the UUP declined to provide the same support, and I feel they have let down a huge swathe of their support base.”

An Ulster Unionist Party spokesman responded that it wants to see all children educated together.

“The Integrated Education Bill won’t deliver that, it elevates one sector to the detriment of others and that is why voted against it,” he said.

He said they met many educational leaders about their legitimate fears about the bill and will work “relentlessly to legitimately and democratically see these redressed”.

The UUP are “passionate democrats” he added.

“We will use any legitimate mechanism within its fair and defined purpose. What we will not do is abuse democracy by an illegitimate use of the Petition of Concern.”

He said the PoC was designed as a cross-community safeguard under the Belfast Agreement and its use on this occasion “failed to meet that test”. The PoC has been abused by other parties such as the DUP to protect their ministers which has “ undermined democracy and proper government” he added.

The Alliance Party tweeted its victory, with a list of how individual MLAs voted, saying: “For those asking who voted for and against integrated education in the assembly earlier,details are here:”.

But Michael Allen, Principal of Lisneal College in Londonderry was annoyed by the tweet.

“An example of the spin and narrative throughout,” he replied. “The debate I watched was on the Integrated Education Bill, not Integrated Education. And people wonder why there are concerns with the impact of this legislation?”

Darren Mornin, Principal of Limavady High School, saw it the same way. “Totally agree, if the Alliance Party are unable to get this correct then how on earth can they be trusted on what they have said at the assembly today?” he asked.

The Council for Catholic Maintained Schools, which had strongly opposed the bill said yesterday: “CCMS and the community of Catholic schools look forward to engaging with our partners in education on the practical out working of the Bill.”

AlumNI - the body representing past pupils from integrated schools - said they hoped the new legislation would help the sector grow further.

Michael Lynch, chair of AlmumNI, said: “There are soon to be 69 integrated schools in Northern Ireland. Seeing that number reach three figures would be a great achievement for the sector.”


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