Donal McKeown says DUP views seen as 'nakedly sectarian'

Bishop Donal McKeown Bishop Donal McKeown was speaking on Radio Ulster's Sunday Sequence

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The Catholic auxiliary bishop of Down and Connor has criticised the DUP over its views on integrated education.

He said the party's statements on the issue were seen by the Catholic community as "nakedly sectarian".

Bishop Donal McKeown said the DUP leader Peter Robinson had implied the Catholic Church was blocking moves towards integrated education.

But the DUP chair of Stormont's education committee said the bishops should "come in to the 21st Century".

Mervyn Storey said Bishop McKeown was "on the wrong side of the argument" and needed to listen to views within the Catholic community.

'Blame'

In his interview, Bishop McKeown claimed that Mr Robinson had suggested that "certain vested interests, by implication the Catholic Church, were the ones who were blocking movements towards that (integrated education)".

"That certainly was perceived in the Catholic community as nakedly sectarian - talking about reconciliation, but ultimately saying the fault is with the Catholics, they really are the ones who are to blame and, specifically, the Catholic Church," the bishop added.

"I suppose at the present time, kicking the Catholic Church really won't lose you too many votes in many places."

The bishop made his comments during a discussion on BBC Radio Ulster's Sunday Sequence programme.

He was also critical of both the DUP and Sinn Féin over plans for a shared future.

He claimed it was in the interests of both parties to maintain division.

'Apartheid'

Bishop McKeown is not the first senior clergyman in the Catholic Church to criticise Mr Robinson's stance on integrated education.

Mervyn Storey The DUP's Mervyn Storey said educational 'apartheid' could not continue

In 2010, the leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Cardinal Sean Brady, said the DUP leader had created "distrust and suspicion" by describing the Northern Ireland education system as a "benign form of apartheid".

In a major speech in 2010, Mr Robinson said that while he had no objection to church schools, he objected to the state funding them.

At the time, his remarks were also criticised by the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) and the head of the Catholic Principals Association in Northern Ireland, Dr Seamus Quinn.

'Resentment'

On Sunday, Mr Storey said: "I think that what the bishop needs to do is listen to his own community, see what is happening within his own community and recognise that the apartheid in terms of educational provision cannot continue and we need to get a resolution.

"I think that that's where the bishops, rather than protecting their own silo, need to come into the 21st Century," the DUP MLA added.

Bishop McKeown's interview was broadcast just days after the US President, Barack Obama, criticised segregated education in Northern Ireland, during his visit to Belfast ahead of the G8 summit.

Mr Obama told an audience of young people at the Waterfront Hall: "If towns remain divided - if Catholics have their schools and buildings, and Protestants have theirs; if we can't see ourselves in one another and fear or resentment are allowed to harden - that too encourages division and discourages co-operation."

'Political problem'

Bishop McKeown said: "I do get annoyed about this notion that Northern Ireland is divided only into Catholics and Protestants - it's 15 years since the Belfast Agreement.

"After a long period when politicians weren't even sitting in the same building together, there actually was the churches working together, who in many ways provided the fabric that held society together.

"The Good Friday Agreement recognised that it was essentially a political problem that we have here," the bishop added.

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