Unionist infighting as ‘flawed’ Integrated Education Bill passes

A fresh bout of unionist infighting has broken out over the Integrated Education Bill that passed through the Assembly today.

By Henry McDonald
Wednesday, 9th March 2022, 9:42 pm
Updated Wednesday, 9th March 2022, 9:52 pm

The DUP blamed the Ulster Unionist Party for the bill becoming law.

Both unionist parties had opposed the bill because they claimed it would mean integrated schools would be prioritised in terms of resources over the Controlled and Maintained sectors.

Despite their opposition the Assembly voted 49 to 38 in favour of legislation that will oblige in law the Department of Education to support integrated schools.

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DUP MLA Diane Dodds said that Doug Beattie and his Ulster Unionist Party knew the bill was flawed but they lacked the “backbone” to stop it through a POC

But the UUP refused to support a DUP petition of concern which yesterday morning would have vetoed the bill and prevented any Assembly vote.

UUP leader Doug Beattie’s decision not to back the veto leaving the DUP two votes short of the signatures required to trigger the POC came under fire from Upper Bann MLA Diane Dodds.

The DUP’s education spokesperson said that Mr Beattie and his party knew the bill was flawed but they lacked the “backbone” to stop it through a POC.

Mrs Dodds added: “They are scared of their political opponents, scared of the effect this will have on 93% of children but not willing to stand up for them.”

Mr Beattie described the DUP’s bid to enact the petition as an “abuse” of the process his party put in place in the 1998 Belfast Agreement.

Kellie Armstrong, the Alliance MLA who proposed the bill, said she was saddened that the debate around the legislation had turned into a “unionists versus the-rest-of-them” squabble.

Michael Lynch, chair of the Integrated AlumNI group predicted the bill would treble the number of integrated schools over the next few years.

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