Antrim Alliance Councillor Alan Lawther has said that the Secretary of State must turn his expressed vision for a shared future in Northern Ireland into reality.
The newly elected Antrim Southeast representative stated: “I share many of the views the Secretary of State expressed — of a vision for a Northern Ireland where religion, political opinion, race, gender, sexuality, age or disability makes no difference to your aspirations — and where you come from does not affect where you want to go. Mr Hain says he believes that a shared future for Northern Ireland is the only viable future and the only one worth having for the next generation, and I agree.
“But this would require a radical reversal in Government thinking, which so far has been based on carve-up and handing out sweeties to the bad guys.
“Alliance party analysts have already identified that such segregation has cost around £1 bn of taxpayers’ money annually. Mr Hain touches on this when he discusses our education system where we fund Controlled, Maintained, Integrated and Irish medium schools. Funding this diversity means extra costs and that money is not available for other things. For example, if we had one integrated system of education no libraries would have had to close recently, there would still be ‘Lolly Pop’ ladies and gentlemen where needed and classroom assistants would not be being laid off in some areas.
“When Mr Hain talks of building cooperation and cohesion across and between school sectors — provided this is turned into action, he has my full support. In my area, Antrim Council has an education sub committee which has recently met and received presentations from the North Eastern Education and Library Board, the Catholic Council for Maintained Schools, the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education, and the Department of Education. These meetings were to discuss their strategies for secondary education in the Antrim area particularly in light of the threats to close Massereene Community College and St Malachy’s School and it was obvious that there was no real strategy. The different education sectors follow their own agendas, and there is no joined up thinking. I hope Mr Hain can rationalise our education provision and get more money to the classrooms and less to the supporting bureaucracies.
“The Alliance vision is of a shared society turned into practice for the good of us all. Let us hope the Government is about to change direction and pursue this strategy too.”