Irish eyes

16th May 2003 at 01:00
SURPRISINGLY, despite the proximity - geographically and culturally - we seldom look across the Irish Sea for comparisons on education. We tend to look south and not west. Perhaps we should. Bishop Donal McKeown told Catholic heads last week of research by the Department of Education for Northern Ireland on integrated schools. The lesson was not as expected.

According to the bishop, there is little evidence to support claims about the benefits of integration, implying that the solutions to sectarianism lie elsewhere. Of course, he would say that.

Where does that leave us? Certainly, it is an intriguing finding that will challenge the integrationist lobby. What we do not know is how transferable it is and, fortunately, we are not Northern Ireland with its violently entrenched divisions. Our differences are real but are nothing compared to the streets of Belfast. We should remember that in all the talk about removing sectarianism and the persistent attacks on denominational schools for apparently promoting division.

In Scotland, our sectarian troubles are tribalised through Rangers-Celtic rivalry. This is a profound part of Scottish culture, like it or not. It is a major industry with a bedrock in communities that thrive on core differences and are unlikely to be shifted easily. We have lived with that long enough. These days, the educational buzz word is diversity, balanced against inclusion. No First Minister would ever sacrifice the first for the second. That's the reality.

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