I thank the Minister of State for attending. On a visit last year to two integrated schools in Northern Ireland as Chairman of the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, I saw at first hand the success of bringing children and staff from Catholic and Protestant traditions, as well as those of other faiths or none, together in one school. The two schools were Strangford Integrated College in Newtownards and Hazelwood Integrated Primary and Nursery School in Newtownabbey, Belfast. There was a clear emphasis on respecting and celebrating different backgrounds and I sensed a genuine atmosphere of tolerance, respect and curiosity among students for one another.
A number of key issues arose during my visit. For example, applications to the schools were increasing in number, showing a need for capital investment to provide the resources required to implement the curriculum properly. Further investment was urgently required in one school for programmes that addressed students' special needs at an early age, thus preventing the need for interventions at later stages.
There are 62 integrated primary and second level schools in Northern Ireland with a total of 22,000 pupils, accounting for 7% of the region's entire student population. It is important to state that the Good Friday Agreement notes that an essential aspect of the reconciliation process is the promotion of a culture of tolerance at every level of society, including through initiatives to facilitate and encourage integrated education and mixed housing.
A great deal of good work is being done in terms of integrated education. As part of the island of Ireland, we must continue to play our part. Between 2007 and 2014, the reconciliation fund of the now Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade made a total of €283,000 available to the Northern Ireland Council on Integrated Education. I would like an update on these funding resources and any further plan to support the development of integrated education in Northern Ireland.
This is a good news story. It was clear from my visit that integrated education could be a strong and powerful force for bringing people together and promoting genuine understanding. I hope that the Minister of State's response will refer to more funding for integrated schools. They have made a significant difference.
They have been at the vanguard of change in Northern Ireland and we must play our part, too.