Robinson defends 'apartheid' remark

Published Monday, 18 October 2010
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First Minister Peter Robinson says Catholic leaders are "vastly out of touch" with the people of Northern Ireland if they believe segregated education is the way forward.

From Washington, where he is attending a US investment conference, Mr Robinson defended his remarks calling for an end to segregated education in Northern Ireland and likening the current system to benign apartheid.

"It isn't a matter of opinion; it is a matter of fact", Mr Robinson told UTV. "The issue is whether we want to do anything about it or not, or whether we're going to allow vested interests to stop us from having the kind of united society that we need in Northern Ireland".

"Does anyone really believe that it is good for our society, for our children to be educated separately, for them to grow up with a 'them and us' attitude to their fellow citizens?

"If those responsible for Catholic education believe it is, I think they're vastly out of touch not only with what the people of Northern Ireland say, but with everybody who has looked at the educational sector recognises to be the case."

Mr Robinson says between 70%-80% parents in Northern Ireland want their children to be educated together.

"Maybe they don't count", the DUP leader said.

Mr Robinson said he did not object to church-run schools, but objected to the state funding them.

Sinn Fein's Education Committee member John O'Dowd has slammed his remarks.

"Mr Robinson has to understand that over 50% of our children are educated in Catholic schools, you cannot do away with funding for the sector because our educated system would collapse and our Executive would go bankrupt," Mr O'Dowd told UTV.

The Chairman of the Catholic Principals Association of Northern Ireland, Seamus Quinn, branded the comparison with apartheid "really offensive".

"The Catholic sector has moved tremendously in recent years to become more welcoming, and to turn around and denigrate the attempts to become more integrated is extremely unhelpful.

"As a strong and confident education system, we are not intimidated or frightened by any of the comments Peter Robinson made - we are just saddened that someone who purports to represent all the people of Northern Ireland has chosen to attack one sector," Mr Quinn said.

A number of SDLP representatives are set to meet with the chairman of the Commission for Catholic Education to discuss the impact of Peter Robinson's remarks.

Bishop Donal McKeown has already criticised the First Minister's comments and insisted the choice of faith-based education for their child was a "fundamental right of parents", while SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie accused Mr Robinson of taking a side swipe at the Catholic education system.

"It took decades of sacrifice before Catholic parents were able to get proper funding for their schools. Our divided society is not the result of Catholic education and if the First Minister is serious about wanting to tackle division he really needs to find better ways of going about it", she said.

While Mr Robinson has come under fire for his speech last week, he has also received backing from some sectors.

The CEO of the Council for Integrated Education, Noreen Campbell, said the First Minister had "done us a favour" by putting the issue into the political spotlight.

The Alliance Party's Education spokesman, Trevor Lunn, has accused the Northern Ireland's two biggest parties of "bickering" over the issue.

But addressing what he calls the "irony" of a bid to end segregation dividing politicians along party lines, Mr Lunn has said it is time to get serious about the issue.

"This must not be about attacking one sector or another. It must be about having more sharing or integration," he said.

Meanwhile, UUP Education Spokesperson Basil McCrea MLA says Ulster Unionists support shared state funded education, but question the First Minister's motivations.

"There is no doubt that Peter Robinson has provoked controversy and I hope that this was not his sole intention. Ahead of the Comprehensive Spending Review and an election headlines are helpful for any political party but they alone cannot deliver change", Mr McCrea said.

On Friday, Mr Robinson called for the creation of a commission to bring forward recommendations to implement integrated education across the region.

© UTV News
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21 Comments
ed in belfast wrote (1,428 days ago):
Hey u all need to wind ur necks in ur all little biggots trying to hold on to ur wee religions and forgeting the true meaning of education , go and seek a life
Jim in USA wrote (1,428 days ago):
Well if we want to talk about religion and politics lets eliminate the act of union and ban the Orange Order. That at least would be a start. Unionists were very happy with their oligarchy and their system of institutionalized sectarianism supported by the British government. Yes Peter, lets go bak to the good old days.
Déaglán in Carryduff, Co. Down wrote (1,428 days ago):
It's a pity that this suggestion of progressive change in our education system by Peter Rondinson has, in a small way, been brought about by the recession. A normal integreted system of education has been needed for decades. It brings people together in a way that literally nothing else can, and should be sought even if it did cost money. Everyone goes through school. If we can get everyone to integrate at an early age now we will have passed on a bright torch for the next generation. Certain figures from the CCMS have recently claimed that the parents' "right" to chose a particular religious education for their child is paramount. One should also bare in mind the "right" of the child to grow up free from religious indoctrination, in an atmosphere that that suffocates prejudice and promotes tolerance for all in this society to an extent that, by definition, a roman catholic school cannot achieve.
LS in DUNDONALD wrote (1,429 days ago):
Why does everyone have to get so uptight about this. This country is in a financial crisis and surely it makes sense financially to have fewer schools costing less money. Why is it still a big deal to maintain both catholic and protestant schools? Surely we should be looking forward and if that means sharing education then lets go for it!
Born again education in Belfast wrote (1,429 days ago):
As some educated in the Catholic system i support Mr Robinsons comments, but what we should be looking at is - What place does ANY religion have in education?? I thought education was about learning facts and gaining understanding of the world. Its not a time to learn about superstitions and myths which have a profound (negative) affect on how a child views the world!!!
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