The long journey ahead for integrated education in Northern Ireland
Andrew Wilson in Belfast
Europe;Northern Ireland


It did not escape the world's attention that the rioters throwing petrol bombs in Belfast recently were too young to remember the peace deal signed 23 years ago.

The conclusion was that sectarian figures in the background were putting them up to it.

But it's not quite as simple as that. By and large teenagers' high levels of deprivation in West Belfast mean that teenagers are bored and vulnerable to negative messaging.



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Just outside the city, an upstairs gym is opening its doors after an extended lockdown and Mixed Martial Arts champion Danny Corr is putting local teenagers through their paces again. He doesn't charge for classes, but he just wants the kids off the streets.

"A lot of it was kids going out there for excitement, you know," he said of the rioting, "the young kids are right there, right there to get an adrenaline buzz, it's as simple as that, they haven't got a political agenda they don't actually hate the person they went to school with, or just met before, they're just getting some kind a buzz," he added.

Another idea slowly taking hold is that of integrated education. Traditionally, primary and secondary school children in Northern Ireland are educated separately according to the two competing faiths.

It's not uncommon for a village to have two schools, one Catholic and one Protestant.

Since the Good Friday Agreement, parents have spearheaded the momentum for mixed schools, mostly on the unionist side, but the idea is taking hold.

Seven percent doesn't sound like much, but it's 65 schools – and that's a start.


Integrated schools mixing both Protestant and Catholic students are on the rise in Northern Ireland. /CGTN Europe

Integrated schools mixing both Protestant and Catholic students are on the rise in Northern Ireland. /CGTN Europe


Lagan College was the first, and its head of sixth form Simon Hare has been there from the start in the 80s.

"We have Catholics and Protestants coming here," he said, "Together they're able to challenge each other, discuss with each other, so we are, as much as possible, a bias-free zone."

The first Catholic school is said to be ready to go integrated this summer. It's all down to parental pressure, and critics of the government say that the Northern Ireland devolved government has been slow to get on the mixed education bandwagon.

"It's not just the children," said Paul Collins, head of the Integrated Education Fund, "the parents are brought into this equation. Now they're at the school gates, waiting and talking to people, and their common interest now is the children."

The Fund has now drawn high-profile support from Hollywood actor, Liam Neeson.

It might seem a far cry from the teenagers on the barricades in West Belfast, but they all make up Northern Ireland's next generation. It just requires some dedication from their elders to widen the possibilities on offer for the good of all.

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