Here’s why we are calling for a ‘No’ vote in the 35th Amendment to the Constitution referendum – the ‘forgotten referendum’.
Please take 5 min to watch this documentary video setting out our concerns at the way the government has ignored the human rights ‘equality’ issue in advancing the 35th amendment without first dealing with the human rights abnegation in Article 12.8 with its requirement for a religious oath on becoming President of Ireland.
Where is its concern for equality for all citizens?
This open letter was sent today by Citizens for Separation of Church and State to the members of the Oireachtas.
The National School system was established in 1831 by the Imperial government to provide a country-wide system of local schools where all the children of the locality would be educated together in the secular curriculum and with religious instruction provided by the religious denominations outside of the formal timetable. The late Dr. Garret Fitzgerald provided a short history of the National School system in his posthumous monograph “Irish Primary Education in the Early Nineteenth Century” (RIA, 2013).
Since the formation of this State that system of strict separation of the period of religious instruction from the secular curriculum has been eroded so that now, to all intents and purposes, our schools are denominational in ethos. With the State’s guarantee of ‘ethos’ (as defined by the patron of a particular school) for religious run schools, the state in effect opted out of the effort to secure national schooling (primary) and treat the children of the nation equally.
Let’s be quite clear, there is no statutory definition of ‘ethos’ and our Constitution is silent on ‘ethos’ merely requiring the state to ensure under Article 42.2° “The State shall, however, as guardian of the common good, require in view of actual conditions that the children receive a certain minimum education, moral, intellectual and social”.
Despite various unfavourable UN Human Rights Committee reports and European Union concerns about discrimination on the ‘religion ground’ in schools of particular ‘ethos’, the Irish State has pushed ahead to strengthen the position of religious controlled and operated schools via the posited ‘deed of variation’.
This construct was discussed in the Coolahan report on primary school patronage (2012). [http://tinyurl.com/pymlpgw] The Secretary General of the DoES commented recently on the status of this Deed:
“The objective of the Deeds of Variation is to provide ultimate security for the ethos of denominational schools. I wish to assure you that the Minister is fully committed to achieving this objective. It is the case that there are complex legal issues involved and the Department has been working with the Attorney General in relation to the matter. [Secretary General of DoES, March 2015] http://education.ie/en/Press-Events/Speeches/2015-Speeches/Sp-%202015-%2003-13.html
Note the reference to ‘complex legal issues involved’ and the involvement of the AG. We trust that the AG will reflect on our human right obligation to all children in our National Schools.
The state sees the way forward as being one of a multiplicity of schools catering for differing religions and the non-religious/liberal parents will be catered for by the expanding Educate Together (ET) network of schools. At a recent conference in Galway Paul Rowe (CEO of ET) stated that they estimated that if ET had 300 schools throughout the country they could geographically at least offer schools at a national level. The number of schools in the pipeline and the expected forward increase makes that number a possibility in the not too distant future he argued and it is obvious that the Department of Education & Skills agrees and sees this ET network as the answer to the problems posed for many by explicitly denominational schools.
The extent of travel required by pupils and their parents to attend such ET type schools on a national basis might restrict access of course and the problem of numbers and location might mean parents having to try and drive children to more than one school (especially as sibling automatic right of admission to any school is now being curbed legislatively). With greenhouse gas emissions from transport being high in Ireland this solution adds to our climate-change mitigation burden and should be rejected. The principle of a local school catering for all the children of a locality has therefore been abandoned, as the guarantee of ‘ethos’ trumps pupil rights and sustainable localities in the mind of the state.
The constitutionality of this abandonment of children’s constitutional right to opt out of religious instruction (indoctrination) and for schools to discriminate on pupil entry and against staff selection is open to challenge. The die has been cast as far as the state is concerned and without Supreme Court rulings overturning the state’s clear game-plan, the battle for a real ‘national’ school system has been lost. It seems to be the case that an action is to be taken against the state in the coming months by a parent/child on the basis of violation of rights in a denominational school and that will be the moment of truth. It would be exceptional indeed if the judiciary was to rule against this heavily flagged intention by the state but without such a ruling the state will not be deflected from its course of many years.
The future is one whereby differing (and multiplying) faiths will seek and set up schools guaranteeing their own ‘ethos’ (however that may be defined) alongside existing faith networks and the ET network. This is the exact opposite of any ‘National’ ideal and that it should be taking place as we approach the 100th anniversary of the States seminal founding event is unbelievable and to us unacceptable. In the absence of judicial striking-down the best that can be hoped for is that the network of Community National Schools (CNS), VEC primary, will succeed in attracting those religious (by catering for diverse beliefs) who might otherwise be tempted to establish their own schools and thus the worst possible scenario of a rampant splintering of the system might be avoided.
We believe sadly that the battle for a truly local and National school system where all the children of any locality are educated in the one school has almost been lost apart from the forlorn hope of judicial or Oireacthas intervention.
We pose the question to you as legislators: Are you happy with the government’s clear intent to finally extinguish any hopes of a truly National School system?
Dick Spicer & Mike McKillen
Citizens for Separation of Church and State
www.cscs.ie and on Facebook and Twitter
9 April 2015