Tackling Northern Ireland’s Deeply Rooted Segregation
Written by Zakiya Patel
Baroness Blood, the first woman from Northern Ireland to be offered a life peerage and seat in the House of Lords, was also the first winner of the Social Driver Award. Her work on integrating education in Northern Ireland is an important one, working tirelessly to fundraise for the initiative that has permeated Northern Ireland since the start of ‘The Troubles’. Refusing to accept a country fraught with tension, Baroness Blood has sought to tackle the issue at its root by working directly with the children of Northern Ireland who are most affected by religious segregation.
Education in Northern Ireland to this day is heavily segregated. The prevalence of segregated education is an issue which has been targeted by the Integrated Education Movement (IEM), which attempts to bridge the gap between Protestant and Catholic children by encouraging a balanced education. This divide, which has existed since the start of the ethno-nationalist conflict in the late 1960s, is still rampant, and at the heart of many dedicated politicians in the country. By encouraging the children of the two sides to go through the trials and tribulations of school together, to play together, to learn alongside each other and to grow up together, the IEM gives the younger generation a whole new perspective and understanding of each other. In doing so, they are able to create a generation free from prejudice.
Having been involved in the creation of the Trade Union women’s committee, as well as being a founding member of the Northern Ireland Women’s coalition, Baroness Blood has a long history of being heavily involved in grassroots community work. Setting her sights on creating more cross community schools, Baroness Blood joined the IEM as a member of the volunteer fundraising team in 2000. Within just two years, she was soon leading the entire fundraising campaign as Chair of the IEM campaign council, illustrating both her dedication and desire to create change.
At the forefront of this incredibly successful campaign, Baroness Blood has brought the increasing importance of the movement straight into the public eye, and has made a huge difference in making integrated and shared education a key political issue for the first time in history. By underlining the importance of ensuring children in Northern Ireland are able to meet and share schooldays with those of differing traditions, she has brought the campaign global recognition with celebrities like Liam Neeson supporting her vision.
With her help in fundraising, the number of integrated schools in Northern Ireland now stands at 62 with 22,000 pupils in attendance. Baroness Blood has stressed the importance of becoming involved in grassroots work, not just speaking ‘for’ people, but ‘to’ people. By speaking to people, she has hosted countless dinners in the House of Lords, rallying the support of fellow peers on such as campaign. She makes it her mission to regularly invite prospective donors to private dinners, all at her own expense, and has gained support at an exponential rate by reiterating the importance of the campaign.
With this growing support, Baroness Blood has had the opportunity to advocate and campaign for the cause of integrated education and more integrated schools not only in Northern Ireland and within Westminster, but also on a global level. She has expanded her work from liaising with county ministers, to influencing US state department heads, US presidents, British and Irish prime ministers’ and an entire host of worldwide community influencers. In doing so, she has taken the charity to people the IEM could have only dreamed of reaching. By stressing the importance of networking and discussing community issues, she made the topic an area of interest within both her network and the media, showing how necessary the engagement was to boosting the credibility of the campaign.
The success of her efforts is one of purpose and fortitude. Whether with an audience of US statesmen with 500 guests, or a private dinner with an individual, the secret of the Baroness’ success is treating each prospective donor individually and attracting those who have an interest on the issue with the same level of respect and commitment as she does. The movement has been so successful that the 62 schools, built from her efforts, have to turn away a staggering 15,000 children a year. She notes that “the demand for Integrated Education is growing and the fund cannot raise enough to meet this demand”. To meet these demands, she is working with huge corporations like Tesco to encourage corporate giving to her cause to help the organization build more schools.
By winning the Grassroot Diplomat Initiative Award, Baroness Blood hopes to give the integrated movement a wider audience. With the movement at its most successful and the segregation in Northern Ireland slowly but surely being alleviated, Baroness Blood will no doubt continue to raise the funds needed to accommodate every child who wishes to attend an integrated school.