Plan urging shared education scheme
A new strategy to heal sectarian divisions in Northern Ireland has stressed the crucial need to create a fully shared education system in the region.
As well as setting that long-term goal, the much-anticipated blueprint unveiled by Stormont's leaders will also establish a new oversight body with beefed-up legal powers to ensure the state is undertaking commitments to foster good relations in the region.
Responsibility for scrutiny of those sensitive issues is being placed on a statutory footing and is being transferred between independent bodies - from the Community Relations Council to the Equality Commission - with the latter being expanded to form the Equality and Good Relations Commission.
The document proposes a number of initiatives to increase contact between Protestant and Catholic pupils in the region's schools - such as shared multi-school campuses and buddy schemes - but stops short of a full scale restructuring of the current separated system.
However it does state the measures are being introduced with "a view to achieving a full shared education system in Northern Ireland", stressing the need to break the "intergenerational cycle" of sectarianism and underachievement.
Stormont First Minister Peter Robinson said the educational dimension of the strategy was part of a "step by step" process to the ultimate goal of a single education system.
"I would like to have swept everything else aside and come forward with one united single shared or integrated education system," he said. "It's a great proposition but in real political terms it is something which isn't possible to do in that way. And therefore it has to be a more gradual process."
Many of the headline actions contained in the shared future strategy - such as a 10-year target to remove all the so-called peace walls dividing communities - were announced two weeks ago by Democratic Unionist leader Mr Robinson and his partner in the region's five party coalition executive Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.
Now the ministers have published the full document - entitled Together Building A United Community - which provided more details on how goals will be achieved. DUP, Sinn Fein, Ulster Unionist, SDLP and Alliance ministers discussed the document at an Executive meeting in Belfast. There will be another Executive meeting to discuss its at more length.
Mr McGuinness said: "The areas of agreement between us (he and Mr Robinson) far outweigh the areas of disagreement and it's in that spirit that we are driving forward. This is an opportunity to move forward, to deal with issues in a very serious way."