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Shared Education

Volume 584: debated on Wednesday 16 July 2014

7. What recent discussions she has had with the Minister for Education in the Northern Ireland Executive on shared education. (904831)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has had a number of discussions with the First Minister, Deputy First Minister and Northern Ireland Minister for Education on this issue. Shared education featured prominently at the recent meeting of the Prime Minister, Secretary of State, First Minister and Deputy First Minister. Through the capital borrowing provisions in the economic pact, the Government have supported a number of initiatives to promote shared education, including the Lisanelly project in Omagh. I look forward to visiting Lisanelly shortly. [Interruption.]

Order. There are very serious matters affecting the people of Northern Ireland, and it would be a mark of respect for the people of Northern Ireland if the questions and the answers could be heard.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I recently met the Minister for Education in Northern Ireland and the Chair of the Education Committee there, and we discussed shared education, among other things. I was listening carefully to what the Minister just said and although I would not expect him to have met the Minister for Education, can he confirm whether the Secretary of State has ever done so?

I welcome my hon. Friend to his new position. Clearly, one key issue in Northern Ireland is the future of education, so can he set out his plan for how he is going to encourage the breaking down of the divide in terms of the sectarian side of schooling in Northern Ireland?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that it is important that we move towards shared and integrated education where the parents wish that that should happen. He will know from the pact, and from the update that is to be published shortly, that £100 million of additional borrowing has been made available as part of that pact for shared education and shared housing, both of which will be of help.

When the Secretary of State meets and has further discussions with the Minister for Education in Northern Ireland, will she ask him to expedite the digging of the first sod of the Parkhall integrated college in Antrim as soon as possible, because that new build has been announced for some time, and the staff, pupils and community are anxious for the work to commence right away?

Through the noise I think I just about made that out, Mr Speaker. I am sure that Hansard will record it accurately and that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will take note of it for her next meeting with the Minister for Education.