Alliance has, today (well, specifically at midnight last night) launched their very own Cohesion, Sharing & Integration (CSI) plan entitled "for everyone". You can, and should, have a read of it on their website. It's a pretty good effort and there is some valuable content but for me, what stands out the most is their approach, in this document and in their overall policy, toward education.
Alliance have, to their credit, always acknowledged that the ultimate source of our extreme divisions is in the way we educate our children. It may be argued that the real source of division is the constitutional position of Northern Ireland and, to a degree, that's correct. Though where it develops from just a normal division of political positions and is turned into the extreme that we currently experience is in our education system.
Dress it up any which way you like, but the state currently funds and operates segregated education based on faith - Catholic children are segregated from Protestants and non Catholics. Only the most naive individual would deny the link between faith and national identity in Northern Ireland. Yes, some Catholics are unionists and some Protestants are nationalists but they're the exception and we need to deal with the norm.
I digress - this post isn't meant to be about whether segregated education is the issue; Alliance think it is, I agree, but have problems with Alliance's proposals to address it.
The target Alliance proposes is for a minimum of 20% of children to be in integrated education by 2020. Why only 20%, why not 100%? If Alliance think that integrated education is the solution why on earth are they content to settle on a policy that only marginally reduces division? Why can't Alliance state clearly the level at which they want our education system to be integrated? Is it 50%, 60%, 70%? If it's 100% why not come straight out with it and be honest - tell the electorate they want to see an end to all segregation based on religion. If it's less than 100%, tell the electorate what percentage of children they are happy to be educated in a segregated system?
I suspect the answer is simply down to electoral politics. People in Northern Ireland still, on the whole, support segregation and the Catholic school system is still very popular amongst nationalist communities. Any policy that aims to reduce the number of Catholic schools will most likely be attacked as anti-nationalist or anti-Catholic, whether it is or not. See the Irish News today for evidence of that.
And that's the weakness with Alliance's approach to education. They have framed it with the reaction of the electorate in mind. That's not leadership. A party that truly wanted to 'lead change' would be bold enough to be honest and clear with the electorate and then set about convincing them of the merit of their argument. This isn't a policy, it's a pathway to a policy that the Alliance party are not yet brave enough to embrace.