Cardinal Séan Brady has criticised Peter Robinson's call for Northern Ireland’s schools to be integrated into a single state system as ‘a stark warning’ to all respecters of diversity and parents' rights.

He accused Northern Ireland’s First Minister of advocating that Northerners should enjoy a lower standard of rights and freedoms than residents of Britain or of the Republic of Ireland.

Last week, Mr Robinson described the North's state-funded system of denominational schools as a benign but damaging form of apartheid.

He called for the integration of such schools.

Speaking today in Dublin, Cardinal Brady said residents of the North deserved to live in a normal society of which diversity was a part, including diversity in the range of schools available to parents to choose from.

Without mentioning Mr Robinson by name, the Cardinal branded his comments as a set-back for discussions about the future of education, north and south.

Dr Brady added that Catholic school trustees on both sides of the border had repeatedly advocated a creative, responsible discussion with others about how they could respond constructively to the needs of a diverse society.

Dr Brady was addressing Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox representatives at a conference in Swords, Co Dublin organized by the Irish Inter-Church Meeting.