As parties urgently discuss the Stormont budget crisis, it is vital to remind politicians, policy makers and especially the public that duplication of services in Northern Ireland is costing in excess of a billion pounds each year.
The figure was arrived at by Deloitte in a study of the cost of maintaining separate education, housing and other facilities to the two communities in Northern Ireland.
How does the continuation of this segregation contribute in any way to a “shared future” or to “building a united community” — on the other hand, how does the waste of resources add to the current problems? The profligate separation certainly adds nothing to the credibility of our political class in terms of economic management — but perhaps both unionist and nationalist parties find this division advantageous in maintaining their tribal vote.
To date, the most successful vehicle for reducing separation and sectarianism has been the establishment of integrated schools. Various authoritative opinion polls have shown that around 80 per cent of people in Northern Ireland are in favour of integrated education. This is supported by the large number of parents seeking places in integrated schools whose children are turned away each year due to lack of places.
The Department of Education in contrast has announced grandiose plans for what they disingenuously call “Shared Education”. Amongst these plans is the expensive relocation and rebuilding of both Catholic Maintained and state (de facto Protestant) schools in new campuses, as in the case of Lisanelly in Omagh.
It is believed that at least three of the schools earmarked for the site are against relocation.
It would be unthinkable folly if, as has been mooted, some new school buildings should accommodate two separate schools — one for Catholic pupils, one for Protestant — under the same roof. Each would have a separate entrance, separate uniforms, separate staff and separate lessons. This has been tried in Scotland. The “two schools under one roof” system was also tried in post-war Kosovo and Bosnia; because of playground tribal warfare, the schools were forced to close.
There is inherent political spin in the carefully-chosen term “Shared Education”; in fact it represents a failure of vision and a disregard of the responsibility to the long-term need for a shared future.
Why must we cynically ignore the failed experiences of others? We have enough problems in Northern Ireland without sleep-walking into a new, eye-wateringly expensive education project.
Is this the best we can do for our children, our families and our country?
Margaret Kennedy, Holywood