Jude Collins

Saturday, 16 October 2010

A letter to Peter

LONDON - JUNE 06:  Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson talks to reporters as he arrives for talks in Downing Street on June 6, 2008 in London. Democratic Unionist Party  leader Peter Robinson succeeded the Rev Ian Paisley as First Minister yesterday at Stormont.  (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

Dear Peter,

So you think Catholic schools are ‘cultural apartheid’ and that they are what’s keeping this a divided society. How absurd, you say, if we were to talk about Catholic and Protestant universities: no one would tolerate the idea for a moment, and yet we have separate schools at primary and secondary level. Catholic schools may be a benign form of apartheid, you tell us,  but they’re apartheid just the same. In fact the morality of their existence is questionable and it’s time the government stopped funding them. “As a society and administration we are not mere onlookers of this; we are participants and continue to fund schools on this basis. And then we are surprised that we continue to have a divided society”.

Well said, Peter. Like yourself I’m against anything that fosters division between Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter. Like you I’m against funding organizations that promote sectarian division and whose morality is dubious.  Supposing, for the sake of argument, there was an organization that permitted only Protestants to join it – that’d be pretty reprehensible, I’m sure you’d agree.  An organization that would expel any of its members if it found they had married a Catholic. An organization whose members every year, for months on end, would parade the streets and roads of this part of Ireland, with banners and tunes and speeches glorifying the memory of the day when the forces of Protestant King William defeated those of Catholic King James.  If such an organization existed – and thank God it doesn’t – I know you, Peter, would lead the charge against them and would insist that not a penny of public funds go their way.

But let’s stick to the schools.  You’re right, Catholic schools do indeed recruit Catholic children; but if you check you’ll find that they’re equally available to any Protestant children who might wish to attend. (The same as far as I know applies to Protestant schools, although Protestant parents are much slower to have their children attend a Catholic school than vice versa). The thing is, Peter,  I spent most of my day-job working life going in and out of both Catholic and Protestant schools, sitting in their classrooms, their staff-rooms, talking to and listening to staff members and pupils alike. And do you know what? Never once in thirty years did I hear a teacher utter a word that might have been interpreted as sectarian or encouraging of divisiveness.  In fact the contrary.  So if children are absorbing sectarianism and a contempt for those of a different religion, they must be getting it somewhere else than in their schools.

But maybe you think the very fact of having separate schools means that sectarianism flourishes? You may have a point. But mightn’t it be better to mend  some other things first – like the fact that the great majority of people here prefer to live among their own sort?  It’s not just the great unwashed working class either. Look what happened in leafy south Belfast when the new Catholic middle class started moving in: mass migration of Protestants to the safety of North Down.  So maybe a heave against segregated communities rather than where they went to school. (By the way, where do you live, Peter? Many tai – I mean Catholics around?)   And  then there’s the history of employment here – from the shipyards to the nice man who took Martin McGuinness’s name, the first job he applied for, and showed him the door the minute Martin said what school he’d been at.

So yes, maith thú, Peter,  I think you’ve shown great leadership in this. But I’d hate to think you were tilting at sectarian windmills when there were real, in-your-face sectarian organizations and social patterns stopping the integration traffic on every side.  In a way, though, I’m not that surprised.  Because you are where you are because you do stand on the shoulders of a giant, don’t you? That colourful clerical man who, for so many decades, in his speeches and actions, did all he could to stamp out division and bitterness, and bring us all together.  Or to change the metaphor, the acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Gach beannacht



  1. Don't segregate our children16 October 2010 at 12:40

    Mr McGuinness - said he was an "integrationist".

    "The first decision I took as minister of education was to establish two integrated schools in Belfast", he said. "I'm all for it"."

    That makes McGuinness an anti-Catholic bigot too then?

  2. Yes Jude, we all agree there are still many areas where bigotry exists, and it should be exposed and not tolerated. I look forward to the day when organizations that cause division become obsolete.

    In the meantime integrating all of Northern Ireland's schools is long overdue. It's an excellent way for children to learn that cultural diversity enriches our lives - and they're the ones who will help shape the country's future.

    Building cross cultural friendships is the best way to banish bigotry and the earlier it starts the better! Wish I'd had the opportunity to make friends from both sides when I grew up there in the 50's and 60's. It had to wait until I was an adult, which is unthinkable where I live now in Canada.

    Reading comments on other websites it looks like the vast majority of people support the idea. So please don't give your support grudgingly Jude!

  3. Support for what, Anon? There's a very silly notion about that if you don't believe integrated education is the best form of education you're a bigot. To which I'm afraid I reply 'Bollocks'. To believe in integrated education is a perfectly legitimate stance. So is to believe in a Catholic education or a Protestant education. The great majority of people who live in the north of Ireland attended segregated schools. Do you really believe the great majority of people in the north are bigots? I don't.

  4. DUP MP Iris Robinson has launched a scathing attack on integrated education saying it is "founded primarily on sectarianism".

    Mrs Robinson also said the integrated lobby was discouraging support with the "high handed and arrogant stance perpetually adopted by its public proponents".

    She added that it thrived off sectarianism and was part of a wider programme of social engineering driven by government.

    Mrs Robinson's comments were made after government rejected a proposal for a new integrated post-primary school – Rowallane College.

    She said the philosophy of the integrated lobby "consists of nothing else other than self-righteous, pompous claims of reconciliation, no more amazing than claiming they can fit 200 people into the back seat of a Mini".

    "Far from transcending sectarianism with some stupendous alternative for the provision of education in Northern Ireland, the integrated lobby is an integral part of that sectarian system and feeds off it – without it, it would starve and die," she added.

    "It is a philosophy founded primarily on sectarianism, as opposed to the delivery of education and is part of a wider programme of social engineering driven by the government and abetted by the holier than thou section of our population.

    "I will, therefore, never act in such a fashion as to further jeopardise the delivery of education to the overwhelming majority of our children, simply to please the politically tainted demands of the tiny minority."

  5. www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1321339/Tory-Cabinet-millionaires-face-TV-claims-tax-dodging.html

  6. I some how think if the protestant population was not dwindling in numbers we would not be hearing Peter 'the punt' calling for integration.

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