Schools are key to reconciliation in Northern Ireland 

Schools are key to reconciliation in Northern Ireland 

Northern Ireland Secretary of State Brandon Lewis.

If the people of Northern Ireland want proper reconciliation, they must integrate their schools, the Northern Ireland Secretary of State has said.

Brandon Lewis, in an exclusive interview with the Irish Examiner, says that although "a devolved matter and a matter for the people in Northern Ireland and the executive itself," the ambitions set out in the Good Friday Agreement are not being met.

"The reality is the Good Friday Agreement set out ambitions to see integrated education developed through Northern Ireland," Mr Lewis said.

According to the most recent data, 93% of children in the north attend segregated religious schools, however, a 2018 Sky News poll found 69% of people believe every school should be integrated. Almost £1bn has been spent in recent years on initiatives that promote cross-community activities, as society has not been able to bring children together through integrated education.

"I'm regularly meeting people successful people in a range of different careers, telling me that as a Protestant or Catholic the first time they met someone of a different religion, was when they went to university or when they went to work," Mr Lewis added.

"It's not just younger generations in that position."

If we really want to have a society longer term, that is properly integrating, properly reconciling and coming together, then one of the ways, isn't just waiting till people go to work or university, we've got to start looking at how we encourage, support motivate integration through education.

Regardless of any constitutional views or religious views that any of us may or may not have, everybody pretty much wants to know that you got a good education, good opportunities, job opportunities, good access to health care, these are all common issues, I think it further enhances the reality that we've all got far more in common than divides us."

Losing patience

Mr Lewis said recently that he is "losing patience" with the Northern Ireland Executive on abortion issues. 

Mr Lewis says he hopes Stormont moves to implement the law, which he says the public in Northern Ireland want.

"I think we have a duty, not just because we have a parliamentary duty and I have a legal duty to fulfil that, but I do think we all have a duty to ensure women have access to proper good quality health care.

I do struggle with anybody arguing that women shouldn't have access to healthcare that they would do anywhere else in the country.

"There's also just a very simple reality for women at the moment, having to go through some pretty harrowing experiences that people shouldn't have to go through, they should have access to the right quality healthcare services as close to home as possible, certainly not having to travel to mainland UK.

"I've always said I'd much rather the executive did this and got on with delivering on what it is duty-bound to do, but if we get to a point where it's very clear they are not going to do this then I have a duty to intervene."

Mr Lewis would not be drawn on what intervention would look like, but added: "I'm an optimist so I'm hopeful that with the new when the Executive comes in they will look at this realise that it's something they need to deal with."

More in this section

Puzzles logo
IE-logo

Puzzles hub

Visit our brain gym where you will find simple and cryptic crosswords, sudoku puzzles and much more. Updated at midnight every day.

Puzzles logo
IE-logo

Puzzles hub

Visit our brain gym where you will find simple and cryptic crosswords, sudoku puzzles and much more. Updated at midnight every day.