Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Chris Heaton-Harris and Tánaiste Micheál Martin celebrated integrated education at a joint reception held at W5 in Belfast on Tuesday.
The event was organized by principals, integrated education charities and alumni, in partnership with the Integrated Education Fund (IEF) and the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education (NICIE), to mark the 25th anniversary of the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement.
In addition, students from Malone Integrated College in Belfast and New Bridge Integrated College in Loughbrickland were present at the ceremony. The reception aimed to demonstrate the shared commitment of the UK and Irish Governments to the Agreement and the importance of the Integrated Education commitments made within it.
During the event, both Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Tánaiste emphasized the fundamental role of education in the journey of reconciliation and building a shared future. Heaton-Harris noted that the UK Government continues to support the integrated sector through its Fresh Start program to build new schools, and through funding to the Integrated Education Fund (IEF) and Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education (NICIE).
Martin, for his part, praised the work of integrated education practitioners, who are helping to build a society of increasing respect and celebration of religious and cultural diversity.
Integrated Education Fund (IEF) Chair Peter Osborne also expressed his gratitude for the support of both the UK and Irish Governments, saying that the IEF and its supporters will continue to support all efforts to increase integrated education in response to demand.
Meanwhile, NI Council for Integrated Education (NICIE) CEO Roisin Marshall noted that integrated education has come a long way in the past 25 years, from 40 integrated schools in 1998 to 70 schools in 2023.
The joint reception highlighted the significance of integrated education as an essential tool for promoting peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland. The celebration also showed the strong and shared support between the UK and Irish Governments for the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement and its commitments to integrated education.