Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Integrated future to centre stage

A survey of people's opinions conducted under professional conditions is a very useful piece of work indeed. It makes it very hard for opinion-formers of any kind to bluster away the results. It forces those in power to address the issue at hand without recourse to ideology.

So the survey for the Intergrated Education Fund (IEF) conducted by Ipsos MORI is a very welcome piece of work.

Its findings were broadly welcomed by the commissioning organisation whose raison d'etre is the ending of separation in our schools.

It shows overwhelming agreement across our communities that the idea of young people studying together, regardless of their religious background, is to be supported.

It reveals that people are looking to Stormont to take a lead on the issue, but that the establishment of an independent commission to examine all aspect of a possible move to integrated education would be welcome.

Given the massive extra cost associated with duplicate systems, it also reveals people would prefer shared facilities than cuts to the different sectors. A vast majority see the benefit of integrated education as a key weapon in fighting sectarianism and promoting reconciliation.

So there is plenty of food for thought here for the education establishments and our politicians. The least this survey should achieve is for the issue to be centre stage in this election campaign. It deserves to be.

No one is suggesting there aren't huge issues at stake here. Those who fear for the loss of a religious identity and the teaching of religious morality to our young people have a genuine concern. But that can be addressed within discussions that should now seriously begin on the practical steps towards integration.

What we've to insist on is that powerful and vested interests who would keep the status quo argue their points on merit, not emotion.

It is not in anyone's interests to marginalise faith, but neither is it to continue the waste of segregation nor to deny the opportunity of our young people to grow and learn together.

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