Are there ‘any islands in the sun’ for children in working class Protestant districts?

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I spent some time last week at Riddel Hall, Queen’s University new centre for excellence in business management.

Located off Stranmillis Road the venue is a wonderful mix of the old and the contemporary in a very harmonious relationship.

Congratulations are due to all who drove this project. is truly thankful for the unstinting support we receive from Queen’s in our efforts to deepen our listeners’, viewers’ and readers’ knowledge on given subjects.

I would posit, the pool of expertise residing in Queen’s University is dramatically undersold to the outside world.

The unlimited reserves of research and scholarship in the corridors of Queen’s far too rarely end up in the ownership of the public.

The previous Provost of Trinity College in Dublin implemented a scheme to link the college with inner city working class areas.

The current vice chancellor of Queen’s, Professor Peter Gregson informs me some of his students are now going into poor Protestant districts like the Shankill to work with children.

There is also a homework club operating which I need to further explore.

All of this is commendable and should be expanded and with a little imagination could grow a lot more.

However laudable Queen’s efforts are on this front there is a huge hole in ‘the body education.’

Former Irish President and Queen’s graduate Mary McAleese was guest speaker to mark the restoration of Riddel Hall.

Former banker Alan Gillespie spoke along with Tom Lynch and the Chancellor.



Did one of them mention the Shankill, Kilcooley, Tigers Bay, Rathcoole, New Lodge or Ardoyne? Not a word?

Do these places register in the consciousness of universities? I didn’t detect this: why do educationalists and the middle classes not realise education should not be about self aggrandisement but about using one’s talents and opportunities to improve the lot of our fellow human beings?

Who is recognising that secondary schools servicing many Protestant areas are numerically and physically crumbling with the brighter children being snaffled by the numerically better resourced grammar schools?

When I asked Queen’s Vice Chancellor Gregson about the inability of young men especially from areas like the Shankill to gain access to his university he spelled out he is not responsible for education policy in Northern Ireland.

He is a powerful voice and ought to become a champion for the voiceless.

I have made this point before.

I refuse to accept that children on the Kilcooley Estate in Bangor are less intelligent than children reared along the Malone Road in south Belfast where the success rate in the Transfer,11 Plus-Plus or its equivalent is ninety per cent.

I know you will argue “but, but but – the parents have no interest in education, these are broken homes and so on.”

This is the classic Unionist argument used to lash Sinn Fein education ministers… “Pump more money into primary schools” is the Unionist mantra.

If there are too many schools in these areas with limited resources spread too thinly, all the primary schools are suffering as a result.

Have the politicians the cojones to close some of these primary schools?

I hold to the view that what is continuing to obtain to this very day in Northern Ireland is an educational infrastructure which was geared for children over half a century ago.

Minorities should not hold sway over majorities in society.


Having attended a rural primary school, a city primary school, a secondary school because I didn’t transfer, and eventually moving to a Grammar school backed up by the experience of my own children – I think I know where discrepancies rest in funding for education.

We all know where the big lobby impacts and it is not in secondary schools.

That is not to dismiss the fantastic leadership obtaining in some Protestant and Catholic Secondary schools.

Once upon a time Northern Ireland had an engineering industrial base.

We ended up with a divided society regardless of the ‘big lie’ that we have a ‘great education system.’

With the demise of our engineering/technical industry, disappeared practically all our technical expertise.

In the Sixties we had technical colleges servicing industries-those dissipated over time and so did so many skills.

So where the fibre of a society is so damaged how can young Protestant youths be rescued from the despair and the scrap heap?

Is it not time for a complete rethink educationally?

This side of spotting talent in those impoverished neighbourhoods and fast tracking them into further education, are these young people not destined for oblivion?

How relevant is any centre of excellence going to be to this forgotten generation?

How are we going to find pathways into higher education for today’s and tomorrow’s youth with the current education infrastructure proving inadequate, coupled with a worsening economy?

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About Author

Eamonn Mallie

I am a regular contributor to discussion programmes on TV and radio both at home and abroad. An experienced political editor and author specialising in Politics, Security and 20th Century Art.


  1. Protestant children always had the promise of the Queen’s Island. Catholic never had access to that ‘island in the sun’.

    • Sherdy, as a man in my 40s I can assure that no one I knew growing up in unionist West Belfast of the late 60s, 70s & 80s was ever assured a job in H&W or Shorts. Having read “The Indivisible Island” by Gallagher countered with “Factory of Grievances” by Buckland I’ve no doubt that in “times of yore” it occurred but for my generation it’s just one of those fables that had no impact on the practicality or realities of growing up in a conflict zone, and trying to get to school or find work.
      Today, Queens Island offers no “island in the sun” for children of any deprived areas (regardless of their religious affiliation).

  2. As a Woodvale man who attended Woodvale PS, Glenwood PS followed by the Model Secondary School for Boys I have seen the area change from being a thriving Industrial Working Class strong hold to the degenerative, largely loss of hope population and region it is now.

    There are a variety of reasons for the change: an MP who mainly did nothing to create investment (as Industry was bombed or moved away) for over 3 decades; a population that bore the brunt of the recent Troubles (there was more armed action in West & North Belfast than any other TAOR in Northern Ireland) and so I could list on.

    It is true that the area has 2nd and 3rd generation unemployment and that is the major problem – there are no local role models. Children see ‘Granda’ and ‘Da’ long term unemployed and importantly without hope. Today, there are no jobs for this without skill set generation of people.

    Even if a ‘magic wand’ was waved tonight and we had fewer Primaries and improved Secondaries delivering a better educational infrastructure the reality is that with no role models there is no one to guide a child / teenager how best to utilize the wealth of their education?

    The political elite can spurn the rhetoric of ‘peace’ and the education establishment bleat about regional academic inability but none of that defers the reality that without investment, and thus job creation that the communities in question will never secure hope. Nothing beats pride in having an ability, contributing and putting bread on the table. As well as a sound education, this role model of worth must be given enabling future generations of working class youngsters a living example to aspire to.

    Yes please, do rethink Education provision for children in deprived areas but please also, importantly, address adult training and job investment for their parents.

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