THE CHANCELLOR of the University of Ulster is at the centre of a public row over the province's religiously divided education system.
The university moved to isolate Rabbi Julia Neuberger after she criticised the Catholic maintained sector as "sectarian" and praised integrated education. Interviewed afterwards Rabbi Neuberger accepted her remarks would cause offence but said she believed integrated schools were the best way forward for Northern Ireland and it was an issue which Catholic schools would have to address.
The Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) immediately demanded an apology for the speech which it said had offended Catholic teachers.
As the row escalated, with one Catholic member of the university's ruling body threatening to resign, UU vice chancellor Trevor Smith issued a statement. "The university has taken immediate steps to reassure our many partners throughout Catholic education, at all levels, that the views reported were unequivocally not the views of the university," it said.
"We place great value on our relationship with teachers, governors and those involved in Catholic schools and are taking part in a wide range of initiatives to benefit both schools and our students."
Catholic bishops were also in contact with the university to register their protest. CCMS director Donal Flanagan welcomed the university's statement but said he still believed Rabbi Neuberger should reflect, apologise and withdraw her comments.
In her speech at the opening of a new integrated school just outside Belfast, Rabbi Neuberger said all single religion schools were sectarian and should not be fully funded by the Government, which should instead provide 100 per cent cash support for the integrated schools.
She added later: "Educating your children in a school which reflects your religion is an argument that has been used by Jews and Muslims as well as Catholics."
This week Rabbi Neuberger said she was deeply concerned at the response to her reported remarks and was planning a clarifying statement.