Integrated Education is celebrated by Secretary of State for NI Chris Heaton-Harris and Tánaiste Micheál Martin who held a joint reception at W5 in Belfast.

The event was arranged by principals, alumni and integrated education charities to demonstrate the shared commitment of the UK and Irish Governments to the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement, and the importance of the Integrated Education commitments explicitly made within the Agreement.

The reception was held as part of the programme of events to mark the 25th anniversary of the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement, in partnership with the Integrated Education Fund (IEF) and the NI Council for Integrated Education (NICIE).

Pupils from New Bridge Integrated College in Loughbrickland and Malone Integrated College in Belfast were also in attendance.

Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Chris Heaton-Harris said: “I was very encouraged to speak with teachers, pupils and the wider integrated education sector in Northern Ireland, ahead of the 25th anniversary of the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement. Today’s reception signalled the strong and shared support between the UK and Irish Governments to the Agreement and the integrated education commitments within it.

“The UK Government continues to support the integrated sector through its Fresh Start programme to build new schools, as well as our funding to the Integrated Education Fund and the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education to aid the sector’s development.”

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Defence Micheál Martin said: “Education is fundamental to how we will make the journey of reconciliation and building a shared future together on this island. The vital role of initiatives to encourage integrated education was recognised in the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement  25 years ago.

“I want to pay tribute to the principals, teachers and practitioners in the integrated education sector who are helping to build a society of increasing respect and celebration of religious and cultural diversity. The Irish Government, through our Reconciliation Fund, has been proud to support them in that journey.”

Integrated Education Fund (IEF) Chair Peter Osborne said: “The Integrated Education Fund is honoured to have the support of both the UK and Irish Governments for its work. We are very proud that both the Secretary of State and the Tánaiste would take time out from their busy schedules to come together to help celebrate the contribution of Integrated Education to the reconciliation process in Northern Ireland.

“This is particularly apt as we approach the 25th anniversary of the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement which pledged to facilitate and encourage integrated education. Integrated Education is and has always been parent and school led and the IEF and its supporters will continue to support all efforts to increase Integrated Education in response to demand.”

NI Council for Integrated Education (NICIE) CEO Roisin Marshall said: ‘The Council for Integrated Education are so grateful to the Tánaiste and Secretary of State for giving up their time today to be here with us to celebrate the 41st year of Integrated Education and also the 25th Anniversary of the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement.

“Integrated Education has come a long way in those 25 years from 40 Integrated schools in 1998 to 70 schools in 2023. We thank you both for recognising that Integrated Education is making a big contribution to our children and young people that Northern Ireland can be shared, not shared out, that we can see both communities and increasing diversity of our people reflected in our schools.’

Published 6 April 2023