Belfast Telegraph

Friday 18 April 2014

Getting rid of segregation would benefit private sector

Industry and commerce cannot flourish without stability, and in turn economic prosperity has a major role to play in bringing social progress; while it would be a dereliction of duty for politicians to rely on business to bring reconciliation to divided and troubled communities, all sides benefit if the voice of the business community is heard.

It is notable that recently business leaders in Northern Ireland have become increasingly vocal as we count the costs of recent street violence and union flag protests.

Northern Ireland needs to be a stable, cohesive community for our own private sector to thrive, to attract inward investment and to avoid a brain drain of our brightest young people.

The institutional structures of separation are inherent in our education system where it is still the norm to educate children separately from the age of three.

Recent figures show that most young people in Northern Ireland attend schools overwhelmingly populated from one side of the community or other.

There is a strong economic argument for developing a system where all schools are not only open to everyone but also nurture and acknowledge the background of every pupil in an environment which celebrates diversity.

The current system in Northern Ireland falls far short of this and is therefore failing us all. The public costs of the current unwieldy, duplicated structures are well rehearsed, but the message emerging from the business community is that our segregated education system and a lack of social cohesion are also impacting on the private sector and therefore on Northern Ireland's potential for growth.

Unprecedented pressures on the education budget alongside 85,000 empty school desks provide an opportunity for major reform of our education system.

There is plenty of evidence that the overwhelming majority of people support structural reform of our education system. This is now backed by calls from the business community for concrete measures from political leaders to develop a truly shared Northern Ireland.