The BIG headline in the local press reads :
“HUGE INEQUALITY CRISIS FOR PROTESTANT PUPILS…”
It’s finally filtered down to the local politicians and the parochial press too ,that there is something somewhat imbalanced in the numbers of Protestants and Catholics doing well in higher education .We’ve already heard about this in relation to inner -city Belfast but apparently the virus has spread across the countryside ,unabated. For Protestants and Catholics , it being Norneverland , we are asked to understand that the reference is actually alluding to Unionists and Nationalists. It also being Norneverland, the newspaper article being printed in a parochial weekly , for cross-community sale and consumption , there is precious little meat hanging on the bones of the feature . At best it is a brief sketch, leaving the readers to fill in the blanks from their own fund of backstory and colloquial reference or from their imagination. As His Bobness ,Mr Dylan might chuckle,” ….nothing is revealed”.
In other words the stuff we already know from many years of discussion across the land’s larger periodicals and televisual debates has finally landed in the headlines of the country- folks jungle drums or their equivalent and the publishers want to harvest the pounds and pennies from all the pockets across the great divide without offering any offence that might stymie the flow from any section. That said , the publication , now part of the Alpha Group ,is known to have always been a unionist voice with past political connections to businessman and retired Ulster Unionist politician Lord Kilclooney (John Taylor). He may well yet hover as an influence in its background like some éminence grise, for all I know. Nothing is ever simple.
Unionist politicians have awoken to the fact that their potential voters are not being properly educated and they have fallen into the usual default position that someone or something is getting one over on them somehow.This unionist collective reckons that If it’s happening to their children alone , there has to be someone besides themselves ,to blame , surely and it’s usually them dang Catholics who fit that particular profile. Lined up to scratch their heads and sign their names to a declaration of intent are the following worthies; Danny Kennedy MLA, William Irwin MLA, councillors Sam Nicholson, Paul Berry, Jim Speers, Freda Donnelly , Gareth Wilson and Gordon Kennedy.
None of these individuals , barely known for their literary-minded deftness or giants of intellectual heft have ever mentioned anything like this before;possibly in discussion behind tightly closed doors , but certainly not for public consumption ;but they now declare:
“Equality of opportunity and access to excellence in education are the birthright of every young person in our society , regardless of religion , social class or political persuasion”
I know that the irony of this statement is that it’s like something straight out of the Civil Rights Movement manifesto of the 1960s ,which none of these worthies, their acolytes , or their compadres would ever deign to support and actually attacked statements such as this at every move….. either politically or physically. If truth be told, the paucity of an educated footfall on the streets was their very bread and butter and political collateral. They have always needed an unthinking ,emotionally incontinent and uneducated public to vote their policies into power in the past .It’s how Paisley filled halls; it’s how they got marching boots such as the UDA on the streets to threaten real democracy.Now ,in this new all-political disposition unionism has suddenly put a value on education.
It appears that local Protestant students are less likely to achieve an A level qualification by as much as over thirty per cent, than similar Catholic students . There are obviously figures to back up this claim and uunionist politicians want to hammer out a solution to the problem, possibly by somehow boosting sixth-form provision for Protestant children in the area.Then there are new incoming immigrants and their children to consider too.More space and more places are suddenly needed for all these new face too.
For some reason unionist politicians have only now awoken from a slumber to realise that Catholic schoolchildren have better access to to sixth form education.
Lest we all forget that these same politicians are in election-mode and have to be seen to be doing something and are obviously thrashing about for soundbites and promises of future intent. Nobody ever said that a politician had be necessarily intellectual or educated , of course ,and many might even see those particular cap-feathers as something of a drawback when a notion of the “common-man” has to be projected to potential voters ,but there is also obviously a late realisation that another train has already left the station and unionism isn’t on it.Mind you we are still awaiting movement on Danny Kennedy’s deliberations and promises regarding a particular local train-link anyway , when transport was in his remit. So far his promises on that score have come to nothing, so it doesn’t bode well on this new push for better education.
Now might be a good time for Protestants and Unionists to ask themselves just why Catholic (Nationalist) school children are outperforming their Protestant (Unionist) counterparts for some fifty years and just why that is a reality across the land .Are these children smarter? Are their teachers better and more skilled ? Or is it possible that they all have a greater inherent drive to succeed through educating their minds , instilled in them for generations ,going back over a hundred years and more? I am no expert on the education system in Norneverland but the facts are there for all to see. Someone has got it right here and someone has got it diametrically wrong .These points just never seem to be mentioned or logically discussed in anything like a frank manner.