UUP Leader says he wants ‘single education system’ for Province

UUP Leader, Mike Nesbitt has spoken of his desire for a single education system for Northern Ireland, devoid of ‘sectors’ and division,

Speaking as the guest at the Lenten Lecture in St Columb’s Cathedral on Thursday, he said viewing historic events in a holistic manner would “start to give shape, meaning and definition to what we blithely talk about as a shared future”.

Describing a shared future as “a huge challenge” nevertheless if historic events were viewed as opportunities to build a better tomorrow then he said he could look with hope and optimism on what could be achieved in the future.

“It seems to me that what people are looking for is based around hope. To deliver that politically we would have to recognise that some of the problems we are trying to tackle cannot be achieved in a year or in a single mandate of any political institution...if we can be honest politicians and say we have the long term vision to take us from where we are to where we need to be then if we can backfill that by taking small bites along the way, people can have some confidence that they are not going to have to wait 20 or 30 or 40 years to see an outcome,” he said.

“One thing I would love us to do is to say today that what we want for the future is a single education system; not integrated education as a sector, but to see the end of sectors, to see a time when there is only one education system,” he said, adding that when the first Education Minister, Lord Londonderry, tried to create a single education system it was the churches, plural, that stood in his way.

“Last year I discovered an opinion poll...where young people were asked what they wanted in terms of education systems. A great majority of primary school and significant majority of post primary school said they wanted a single education system. That was in 1968. So, in 1921 we wanted it; in 1968 the children wanted it and we have not yet delivered it.”

He asked: “What better inoculation could there be against sectarianism than to create the shared space that is the safe educational campus where children from the age of four can mingle and learn together? How difficult will it be for parents and others to be able to poison their minds with sectarianism if the child is looking at the adult and thinking ‘but I mix with those people every day, they are my friends, they are my colleagues, they are my peers’?.

To get to that was not a question of saying ‘We will set a date’, he said, rather, it is a question of asking ‘Who is ready?’.

Some communities are ready to go today, and some next week, and some not for five, for 10 or 15 or longer in terms of years. Don’t beat up those who need time. Don’t say to them ‘Why can’t you be like the good people who are ready to go tomorrow?’ Let the people who are ready to go tomorrow go tomorrow and let us work with the people who need time and let us say to them ‘What are your fears? How do we address them? What can we do to help you on the journey?’ I would love to see that happen. It is the single most important transformational act we can bring about in our society. Education to me is key,” the UUP Leader said.