Nothing new with concerns about the application of Rule for National School No. 69

This is an exchange in the Dail on 8 March 1978 between Deputy John Horgan (Lab) and then Minister for Education, John Wilson (FF).

There is nothing new under the sun in relation to ongoing human rights concerns about Rule 69 application in our National Schools.

Boards of Management had been instigated in our schools in 1976.

I had been elected to my local board of management and arising from my experience I had formed, with others, the Council for Elected Parents’ Representatives (CEPR) on National School boards of management. In that role I met minister Wilson in 1978 to follow up on Deputy Horgan’s questioning of the minister.
Nothing has changed since that time and the present government is just as protective of church interests as every other government since then. Human rights abnegations don’t count despite UNHRC warnings to Ireland that this situation can’t continue to fester.

Who is advising the state to tough this one out?

Date: 8 March 1978. Oral Answer No. 12.

Mr. Horgan: Information on John S. Horgan Zoom on John S. Horgan asked the Minister for Education the regulations, if any, that are laid down by his Department to ensure that children attending national school may exercise their constitutional right not to attend denominational religious instruction.

Mr. Wilson: Information on John P. Wilson Zoom on John P. Wilson The relevant provisions in the Rules for National Schools are as follows:

Rule 2

These Rules do not discriminate between schools under the management of different religious denominations nor may they be construed so as to affect prejudicially the right of any child to attend a national school without attending religious instruction at that school.

Rule 69

(1) The religious denomination of each pupil must be entered in the school register and roll-book. This information should be ascertained from the parent (the father, if possible) or the guardian of the pupil, where necessary.

(2) (a) No pupil shall receive, or be present at, any religious instruction of which his parents or guardian disapprove.

(b) The periods of formal religious instruction shall be fixed so as to facilitate the withdrawal of pupils to whom paragraph (a) of this section applies.

[1102] (3) Where such religious instruction as their parents or guardians approve is not provided in the school for any section of the pupils, such pupils must, should their parents or guardians so desire, be allowed to absent themselves from school, at reasonable times, for the purpose of receiving that instruction elsewhere.

(4) Visitors may not be present during formal religious instruction unless with the express approval of the manager.

(5) The periods of formal religious instruction shall be indicated on the timetable.

I presume that the words “management committee” should be substituted for the word “manager” at the end of subparagraph (4) of Rule 69 above.

Mr. Horgan: Information on John S. Horgan Zoom on John S. Horgan Would the Minister agree that these regulations are not being complied with in the situation in which a child whose parents wish him not to take part in formal instruction is required to remain in the classroom while that religious instruction is taking place? What advice would the Minister give to the parent of a child in such a situation?

Mr. Wilson: Information on John P. Wilson Zoom on John P. Wilson The board of management in the school has an obligation to see to it that the child is not required to stay there against the wishes of his parents or guardians.

Mr. Horgan: Information on John S. Horgan Zoom on John S. Horgan If the board of management fail to make appropriate arrangements can the parent or parents in question communicate with the Minister in the matter and will the Minister do something about it?

Mr. Wilson: Information on John P. Wilson Zoom on John P. Wilson They can and I will.

Ruth Coppinger, TD moves her private member’s Bill in Dail last night

Ruth Coppinger (Socialist Party, Dublin West)

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to end religious discrimination in admission to primary and post-primary educational establishments and to provide for full participation of pupils of all faiths and none in primary and post-primary educational establishments.

This is aimed at ending religious discrimination against children in our schools, treating all children equally, giving them equal access to our schools without the religion of their parents being a factor and, during the school day, affording children of all religions and none due consideration in the curriculum.

The first Part of the Bill aims to delete section 7(3)(c) of the Equal Status Act 2000. Unfortunately, the Government refused to do this when given the opportunity last week despite the Labour Party’s commitment to parents that it would do so. The second Part amends several sections of the Education Act 1998 so that when children gain equal access to a school, they will not be unfairly subjected to indoctrination in one religion.

Section 7(3)(c) is unbelievably backwards, socially divisive and discriminatory legislation. It is past time for it to go, in recognition of the fact that we have a different type of society now. There are State-run, taxpayer-funded schools, buildings and teachers, yet the boards of management or school patrons are allowed to draft admission policies that are based on inequality. Of two parents who attended the Dáil last week, one was a Hindu living in south Dublin whose daughter has to travel 6 km to school. He had to apply to seven schools and was told by the archbishop that the only way around the situation would be to baptise his child. To tell a Hindu that was crass. Another parent’s son was turned down by eight schools and needed to stay back a year in order to find a school in the local area.

In Dublin, the problem is most acute where school places are few, forcing the Catholic Church to introduce a Catholic-first policy or the quotas that we have seen in operation in a number of schools in my constituency of Dublin West. Ludicrously, parents are driving miles from their local schools and criss-crossing with other parents on the same streets, which adds to traffic and causes other problems. They should be entitled to have their children attend their local schools.

Last week, there was considerable interest in and debate on this issue. Unfortunately, the Government chose to say “No.” It is rank hypocrisy to tell parents to wait until the next Government comes along. Flawed as the Constitution may be on questions of religion, there is nothing in it that obliges religious discrimination in schools.

The second Part of our Bill amends sections 9, 15 and 30 of the Education Act 1998, essentially moving schools in a secular direction and away from a role as centres for passing on faith. This is a recognition of a changing society. A growing number of people are no longer of the majority religion – that is, Catholic. There is more diversity, with people from different nationalities and backgrounds. Parents want to see their children attending schools with other children from their communities. We propose the removal of the phrase “the characteristic spirit of the school,” which obliges boards of management, the Minister and school managers to allow religion to pervade all teaching in schools. For example, maths must be taught in line with the school spirit. I have heard examples of a triangle being compared with the Holy Trinity. This is happening in our schools. The teaching of science must give due recognition to evolution and so on.

We need to remove the obligation on schools and allow children to be taught in an objective and pluralistic way. We also need to stop forcing school managers to ensure that religion forms part of the curriculum. That should be the choice of parents, with religion taught at the end of the school day.

We need to decouple boards of management from school patrons so the latter, which are generally of just one religious denomination, will not have undue control over the ethos of schools. We must ensure children are not compelled to attend classes in religious instruction. We have seen cases only in recent weeks where schools have been compelling pupils in this regard despite their constitutional right not have to have religious instruction. It is past time that we allowed children equal access to schools.

5:35 pm