A row between the DUP and a Catholic bishop has escalated after the political party described the cleric as "irrational".
Bishop Donal McKeown, who is chair of the Northern Ireland Commission for Catholic Education, continued a war of words yesterday when he said DUP leader Peter Robinson was blaming Catholics and the Catholic Church for blocking changes to the system, a view which he said his community viewed as "nakedly sectarian".
In an interview with the BBC yesterday, the Auxiliary Bishop of Down and Connor claimed that the First Minister had suggested that "certain vested interests, by implication the Catholic Church, were the ones who were blocking movements towards [integrated education]".
He added: "That certainly was perceived in the Catholic community as nakedly sectarian – talking about reconciliation, but ultimately saying the fault is with the Catholics, they really are the ones who are to blame and, specifically, the Catholic Church.
"I suppose at the present time, kicking the Catholic Church really won't lose you too many votes in many places."
However, the DUP's Mervyn Storey, who is also chair of the Assembly's education committee, said the bishop was on the wrong side of the argument and needed to "come into the 21st Century".
He instead urged the Bishop to support Peter Robinson and join the campaign to end "benign apartheid" within our education system.
"This is a very disappointing outburst from Bishop McKeown, though not unexpected, given that last week he and others from the Catholic system attacked the integrated sector and President Obama in an attempt to justify and protect their position," he said. "While the bishop may drag his feet with regard to a single education system, he should not reduce his opposition to misleading allegations and name-calling."
The row comes just days after the Belfast Telegraph published the results of a survey showing the public's support to ending division and promoting a single education system in Northern Ireland.
The LucidTalk poll, conducted on behalf of the Integrated Education Fund, showed that 68% of people believed the issue of segregated education should be a priority for the Northern Ireland Executive.
Sixty-three per cent of those surveyed said that current system perpetuates division in our society and 77% said Northern Ireland's international image would be improved by having a single education system.
However, Bishop McKeown, writing in this newspaper, dismissed the findings, describing the questions as "loaded".
"And if you use the term 'integrated education', most people – including those with a passion for Catholic education – will agree that they want to 'integrate education'. But it is culpably dishonest to identify the widespread support for the global process of 'integrated education' with the comparatively small 'integrated education' movement."
"(Peter Robinson's view) certainly was perceived in the Catholic community as nakedly sectarian – talking about reconciliation, but ultimately saying the fault is with the Catholics, they really are the ones who are to blame and, specifically, the Catholic Church. I suppose at the present time, kicking the Catholic Church really won't lose you too many votes in many places."
Bishop Donal McKeown on the DUP