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Thought for the weekend: The majority want all of our children educated together

By Canon Walter Lewis

Published 25/06/2016

In recent days, you may have been inspired to read about the amalgamation of two 'faith primary schools' in the village of Desertmartin - Knocknagin Roman Catholic Primary School with 53 children, and Desertmartin Church of Ireland Primary School with 23. This is an historic event.

It is Northern Ireland's first 'shared faith' primary school. The board of governors and staff all support this development.

The new school will be jointly managed by the Roman Catholic, Church of Ireland, Presbyterian and Methodist Churches.

For decades in surveys and opinion polls in Northern Ireland, the great majority of parents here have expressed a strong desire for Protestant and Catholic children to be educated together.

Over the years, the integrated schools movement has provided a constructive response. The new joint faith school in Desertmartin may be the harbinger of further similar developments to come. In the last 100 years, efforts have been made to educate Catholic and Protestant children together.

For example, in 1923, a very ambitious plan to reform education radically in Northern Ireland was presented by the Stormont Government. Its main features were to increase parental control over elementary education and to educate Catholic and Protestant children together.

These measures failed due to lack of support, in the first instance from the Catholic clergy and then from the Protestant clergy.

In the 1980s, I was surprised when, in conversation, James Molyneaux, the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, told me that he had been educated at a Roman Catholic primary school. He added that his schooldays had happy memories for him.

In 1993, I spoke to Cardinal Cahal Daly, Archbishop of Armagh, about Catholic being educated together. He said: "Yes, I am happy with as much contact as possible between the children in the schools."

Today, the popular wish for pupils to be educated together has not diminished. Rather, it has increased and intensified to the point where legislative action is being taken by the Northern Ireland Assembly on a major new initiative which has the signs of durability and success.

Belfast Telegraph

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