Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 22 October 2014

Now let's build this shared future for all

Now there is some flesh on the bones of the shared future strategy outlined by the First and Deputy First Ministers. And at first glance it is a document with some encouraging initiatives. The idea of work experience placements for 10,000 young people not in employment, education or training is innovative. Even more so, the proposals that all public contracts should offer apprenticeships to young people.

At a time when one in five people aged 18-24 is out of work, that offers hope to a generation in danger of perishing on the rocks of the recession.

It is also positive that some deadlines have been established, although the committee set up to look at the big controversial questions of flags, emblems, parades and the legacy of the Troubles, will find the task of reporting by its December deadline a daunting one.

They might wonder how they can succeed where politicians have so evidently failed for the past 15 years. There is also the question of where the likely £500m to fund the strategy will come from, but perhaps London, Europe and philanthropists will help meet the bill if it helps to stabilise peace and change here.

But, while the strategy has much to commend it, there is a danger that one golden opportunity is about to be lost. The document outlines plans for huge new-build campuses for shared schooling.

The concept of integrated education has been sidelined in an almost imperceptible manner even if it is the preferred parental choice in poll after poll. The very expensive new campuses, which will set schools of different ethos on the same site, will merely highlight the divisions in education, rather than solve them.

While the strategy has come up with plans to practically buy good behaviour from communities along the peace lines – offering new facilities in return for knocking down the peace walls – integrated education offers the opportunity to tear down the mental divisions which blight Northern Ireland in a far more cost-effective and longer- lasting manner.

This is one debate which should be reopened given its importance and potential benefits.

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