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Book of the Week: Same age, different school, different church

A Shared Childhood: the story of integrated schools in Northern Ireland
By Fionnuala O'Connor
Blackstaff Press pound;9.99

"All I ever knew about Catholics is they're Taigs and they hate us." Thus spoke a young Belfast mother as parents first met to plan a new school where Protestants and Catholics would learn together.

It was the early Eighties, when passions ran particularly high in Northern Ireland. Bombings and sectarian killings were commonplace.

Into this fevered atmosphere, integrated education was born; 15,000 pupils are now educated in 47 integrated schools.

But while widely praised abroad and lauded by secretaries of state, they receive a cooler domestic reception, reflecting the same divisions which make political agreement so difficult. Those 15,000 represent fewer than 5 per cent of pupils.

In telling the story of integrated education, Economist journalist Fionnuala O'Connor doesn't shirk from difficult issues.

Conor Ryan is a journalist specialising in education and Irish issues. He was political adviser to David Blunkett from 1993 to 2001.

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