Belfast Telegraph

End this tribalism and move on, says Apprentice tough-talker Margaret Mountford

By Anna Maguire

She is known for her straight talking in the boardroom.

But now former Apprentice star Margaret Mountford has blasted Northern Ireland's politicians for not doing enough to move our "tribal" society forward.

Ms Mountford (below with Lord Sugar) described Northern Ireland's segregation as "shocking", an ongoing divide which is costing the economy millions, during a whistle-stop tour of an integrated school in Belfast.

"It seems to me ridiculous to keep children apart until 18. I see no merit in it," Lord Sugar's Apprentice adviser, from Holywood, Co Down, said.

"I have been away from Northern Ireland since 1970 and there are still areas of Belfast which are almost no-go areas for members of one part of the community or another. One cannot countenance that in a European society. It's shocking, actually, shocking that it's still like that."

Speaking during a visit to north Belfast's Hazelwood Integrated College, she said: "When universities and businesses are integrated, why do we keep children apart until 18?

"It's tribal. It should be a thing of the past. We should have moved on; we need to move on."

She said the onus falls on the Executive which, despite its emphasis on shared education in the Programme for Government, is not working hard enough to promote integration.

"I get the feeling not enough is being done to promote integrated education," she told the Belfast Telegraph.

"It seems to be harder to start an integrated school than it is to expand a non-integrated school in terms of Government funding."

Hazelwood received a £150,000 grant from integrated education bodies to establish a 18-classroom mobile unit in August.

But the facility – a centre for maths, ICT, the sciences and careers – was padlocked shut by Belfast Education and Library Board at the start of the academic year in a dispute over the lease for the land.

The school has been forging relationships with businesses to introduce pupils to the world of work – an initiative which brought Ms Mountford to Belfast.

The Department of Education has said it takes seriously its statutory duty to facilitate and encourage the development of integrated education.

WHAT SHE SAID

"We know that integration is fundamental to society. It seems to me ridiculous to keep children apart until 18... when universities and businesses are integrated. I see no merit in it."

"I have been away from Northern Ireland since 1970 and there are still areas of Belfast which are almost no-go areas for members of one part of the community or another. One cannot countenance that in a European society."

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