Letter: Northern Ireland: self-determination in a divided society

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The Independent Online
Sir: Your article 'Two children of the troubles look back' (5 October), on children in Northern Ireland, illustrates the alienation and violence that follow from lack of contact and understanding at an early age. Those you interviewed (as with most children here) had no contact with those of the 'other' side: Catholic or Protestant, Republican or Loyalist.

This results from the rigidly enforced (by the churches) segregated education system in Northern Ireland, where more than 98 per cent of children mix only with those of their own faith throughout their school lives, learning from teachers and parents who have been similarly constrained. In other parts of the UK, Christians, Jews, Moslems, Sikhs, Hindus, etc, can mix at school and learn something of those they are to share the world with.

Here, the other branch of the (nominally) same religion is taboo. In other parts of the world (for example, the US), positive integration, via bussing, has been successful in reducing alienation. Here, children in adjacent streets are bussed to separate schools to maintain segregation.

A proposal in Belfast to site Catholic and state teacher-training colleges on the same campus site, even without mixed classes, was met with almost fanatical opposition by the Roman Catholic church - with sermons preached at every service and petitions presented to churchgoers (not a tenth of this energy has been seen from the church against terrorism).

Political initiatives should be seen as one route to reducing hatred. The other, more fundamental, is to cease segregating children.

Yours faithfully,

D. A. STEWART

Belfast

5 October

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