OKAY – crystal ball time. Remember the three witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, doing their toil-and-trouble thing and giving Macbeth some very accurate forecasts which at the same time were very misleading?

The meeting of the great and the fake-great in Queen’s University last week produced a bit of ball-gazing. Hardly surprising – if people have spent several days crying “Happy 25th Birthday, GFA!” it was inevitable someone would ask the question “What about the next twenty-five years?”

Wrapping up the conference at Queen’s, British prime minister Rishi Sunak peered into his ball and told one and all what he could see. The GFA, he declared,  “remains the best and only foundation for peace and prosperity”. 

Nice try, Rishi, but no cigar. The GFA certainly has been a basis for a largely peaceful society, but prosperous? Mmm. Let me come back to you on that one.

Rishi also predicted a future where "the poisonous grip of the paramilitaries, those gangsters and drug dealers who wrap themselves in the cloak of legitimacy” will be at an end. As for the peace walls, he saw a future where, in 25 years time, a fragment from the flattened walls would be a tourist souvenir. Then he delivered his education-in-the-next-25-years vision. “In 25 years, should integrated education not be the norm, rather than the exception?”

Rishi’s vision for 25 years down the education road here is clearly integrated education; his vision for housing in 25 years is happily intermingled communities.

A quick autobiographical flashback: Beside the farm where I grew up, there was a council housing estate which was 100 per cent Protestant. In general we got along okay with them, but every Twelfth a fusillade of stones and insults would come flying over the fence between us.

I mention that to encourage ball-gazers not to view integrated education in a  simplistic way. Where parents want integrated education, it should be provided – and is. But where parents, for religious or cultural reasons, want to have their children educated in different schools, they likewise should be free to avail of that service. The fact is, integrated education has been with us for forty years. Has it reduced sectarianism?  Alas, no. When the pupils go home every evening to their community – in the great majority of cases composed of people with the same religious and cultural views – the benefits of integrated education tend to get a bit threadbare.

If you’re reading this article, chances are you were born and raised in a nationalist/republican community and attended a Catholic school. Hands up if your Catholic (or Protestant/state) education made you a bigot... What, no hands? So how come you weren’t damaged by not attending an integrated school, yet the next generation will be damaged if we don’t have them?

One final point, with even deeper foundations than the GFA. Those people like Sunak who have praised the achievements of the GFA over the past  25 years, and gone on to predict further improvement on that GFA foundation, aren’t they forgetting something? Or maybe they’re deliberately ignoring it? Because many in the nationalist/republican community, notably Sinn Féin, have their eye on a border poll. Mary Lou McDonald and others have spoken of a border poll within this decade. If that poll was to produce a majority for a reunited Ireland, the many plans and schemes for NEI over the next 25 years begin to sound a bit tinny.

Are those who gaze in the crystal ball and see a flourishing NEI in 25 years wishful thinkers? Or (more likely, in my opinion) are they working to implant in people’s minds the notion that, despite a core element of the GFA, we should all kind of forget about the fact that our country has been partitioned for over a hundred years and that any attempt to repair that division would be perverse and probably upset our unionist neighbours?