Student Katie’s Stormont integration plea for 2048
She did so with a little help from voice coach Sinéad Lunny, from Banbridge, who is the founder of mentoring agency Vocalis Public Speaking.
Katie was one of 12 teenage women who had been asked to spell out their vision for the future as part of an inspiring event called ‘2048: The Future Starts Now’ – the idea being to mark the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement in the form of an event where the young women would fast-forward another 25 years and envision how Northern Ireland could be transformed.
For Katie, who is passionate about the ethos of integrated education, the way ahead was clearly one where all traditions would be educated together.
She told the Senate Chamber: “Imagine a Northern Ireland where communities are no longer divided by walls and barriers, but instead united by shared experience, empathy and understanding.
"The Northern Ireland that I envisage for 2048 is one where children of all communities are able to learn, play and grow together.
"Did you know that only 8% of schools in Northern Ireland are integrated? 25 years on from the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, this percentage is unacceptable.
"As a past pupil of Bridge IPS and current Year 13 student at New-Bridge Integrated College, I have seen first hand how learning at an integrated school has allowed me to both understand and respect students around me, as well as their differing backgrounds.
"I envisage a Northern Ireland where every person has the opportunity to play Gaelic games or participate in the marching bands without being labelled as a Catholic or Protestant.
"I envision a Northern Ireland where every school is integrated, to allow us to break the relentless cycle of religious and political stereotyping.
"I believe that if we had a school system modelled on the practices that take place within integrated education, then Northern Ireland in 2048 would be a much more peaceful, prosperous and politically stable environment.
"Northern Ireland, in the past and present, has found itself in an endless cycle of conflict, division and intolerance.
"But I envision that the future of Northern Ireland will have moved beyond this endless cycle.
"Some of you may be thinking that I am crazy, how does a 16-year-old expect to break down such an extreme cycle of conflict?
“The answer is respect. Respect for other people's opinions, respect for other people's traditions, respect for other people's beliefs.
" I feel that restorative practice is the key for this communication that Northern Ireland so desperately needs.
"Restorative practice is a way of working with those affected by conflict by putting the focus on repairing the harm that has already been done.
"It is an approach to conflict resolution that includes all parties involved. It is an approach that calls for honesty and acceptance in order to allow for repair to happen.
"I have personal experience of using this restorative method, as my school has introduced it into our daily routine.
"We also use peer mediation in school to facilitate conversations between students experiencing conflict.
"I'm one of these mediators and I have seen how something as simple as a respectful conversation can change people's behaviour in a positive way.
"I feel that if we can facilitate this within schools, then as a society surely we can adopt this restorative approach to begin to repair the damage that has been done to Northern Ireland as a whole.
"Now is the time to work, integrate and channel our efforts to create a fantastic, united Northern Ireland where we can all celebrate, promote and be proud of our different cultural backgrounds.”