Paterson sparks segregation row

Published Tuesday, 05 October 2010
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Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson has told Stormont ministers that British taxpayers could no longer continue to fund segregated education.

Mr Paterson was speaking at a fringe meeting of the Conservative party conference where Sinn Féin deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness made a first appearance.

SDLP Social Development Minister Alex Attwood and UUP Employment and Learning Minister Sir Reg Empey also attended the CHAMP Northern Ireland Breakfast in Birmingham.

Guest speaker Mr Paterson told them that the cost of segregated education was "a criminal waste of public money".

"There's a school in Belfast with no pupils and there's a school in Belfast with more staff than pupils", Mr Paterson explained.

"That's just a criminal waste of public money. We cannot go on bearing the cost of segregation and I don't see why the British taxpayer should continue to subsidise segregation."

Stormont Education Committee chair Mervyn Storey said money needed to be spent "in the most appropriate and cost effective way".

"We are dependent upon the money that comes from the Exchequer in the sovereign Parliament in Westminster", the DUP MLA told UTV.

"People, institutions and organisations that have continued over the years to have their ideological and political wish-list protected at the expense of the taxpayer need to step up to the plate."

However, Sinn Féin Education Minister Caitríona Ruane slammed Mr Paterson's comments as "ill-informed".

"It is irresponsible to make ill-informed comments about areas which are not your responsibility. Mr Paterson is thankfully not in charge of any Department in the north of Ireland. He is attempting to divert public attention away from the fact that his government is proposing to slash public spending", Ms Ruane said.

"No-one is more aware than me of the past inefficiencies in education."

In Birmingham, her predecessor at the Education department - Mr McGuinness - told UTV he was an "integrationist".

"The first decision I took as minister of education was to establish two integrated schools in Belfast", he told UTV. "I'm all for it".

But, in a feisty exchange, Mr McGuinness and Mr Paterson publicly disagreed over Tory plans to cut public expenditure in the region.

"I am here today as part of our efforts to safeguard the most disadvantaged in our society from proposed Tory cuts and to continue to press for continued investment in infrastructure and job creation in Derry and across the north", the deputy first minister said on Tuesday.

Social Development Minister Mr Attwood agrees Northern Ireland is a special case.

"There is a contradiction in the British government approach to the budget and welfare reform regarding Northern Ireland. They agree Northern Ireland has high levels of depravation, a legacy of conflict and a risk of instability", he said.

"Of course we must reform and we can spend better but the British Government must face up to the realist that all the evidence leads to the conclusion that Northern Ireland should be treated differently and they must face up to the contradiction in their own attitude."

Sir Reg Empey said developing integrated education in Northern Ireland is a "long-term project", especially in an "environment where there's little capital expenditure available to us".

© UTV News
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10 Comments
Ulster Loyalist in Northern Ireland wrote (1,385 days ago):
It's alright saying closing Catholic run schools and opening more integrated schools and colleges is the way forward and will help future generations. But are people forgetting that no matter how well people mix here, politics will always be something we will never agree on and will always be a problem?
Ulysses32 in Belfast wrote (1,386 days ago):
Dave, are you are aware of anyone being refused entrance to a Catholic maintained school on the grounds of religion? If that is the case you should advise them that they could be entitled to a big, fat discrimination cheque. Where do you get your knowledge from. The Orange Spectator?
Pro Integration in Belfast wrote (1,386 days ago):
Well said, Owen Paterson! Segregated education means duplication of services on a massive scale. It wastes millions of pounds a year. And it fosters social division on the basis of religion. The sooner it goes, the better! There is no educational argument in support of it - it is a religious apartheid. Pity our Minister for Education seems unaware of that!
Lyn in Belfast wrote (1,386 days ago):
I totally agree with Owen Paterson on segregation but not because of financial implication but because I think it could help future generations live side by side. And eventually maybe work out that we no longer have to live in segregated areas
Brian in Belfast wrote (1,386 days ago):
He hasn't got a clue.
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