International media coverage of the inequality in admission policies of some Irish schools

Irish patronage debate makes global headlines- Irish Times 16 February 2016

Some politicians are fond of claiming that the “baptism barrier” debate regarding Irish schools is just a local issue confined to oversubscribed schools in affluent parts of Dublin.

For a provincial issue, it is making international waves. The New York Times recently carried a large feature on the “Catholic Church’s hold on schools in a changing Ireland”.

Now Hindus across the globe have urged Pope Francis to “fix Ireland’s education system”as a matter or urgency.

Hindu statesman Rajan Zed, president of Universal Society of Hinduism, says religion should not play any role in admissions to Irish schools.

“The practice of a religious majority controlling the school doors, and schools indulging in kind of state-sanctioned indoctrination is simply wrong and should end,” he says.

Intolerable Bias in Ireland’s Schools – New York Times Editorial 29 January 2016

The people of Ireland have shown a commendable willingness to strike anachronistic bias from the country’s laws, most emphatically in legalizing gay marriage last year in a referendum approved by three out of five voters. With a general election expected next month, a movement is underway in the rapidly changing nation to target another hurtful social condition by which non-Catholic children are legally denied seats at overcrowded state-financed primary schools, 97 percent of which are controlled by Catholic authorities.

With schools allowed to give preference to Catholics, other families are forced to have their children baptized in the church, linger on school waiting lists or search for scarce alternatives. Only 74 of the nation’s 3,200 primary schools are run by Educate Together, the main multidenominational alternative, whose Dublin schools are swamped with four applications for every available space.

The public is fast realizing this is an intolerable situation in a country with an increasing immigrant population of non-Catholics and a rising generation of younger nonpracticing Catholics. A poll last month measured almost 85 percent public approval for changing the law so it no longer tolerates religious bias against schoolchildren.

“Ireland is changing, there are a lot of young parents and they want something different for their kids,” Eoghan Murphy, a Fine Gael member of Parliament, told Politico in calling for school fairness as the first priority of the next government. The Irish education minister, Jan O’Sullivan of the Labor Party, is similarly calling for reassessment of the law that exempts religious schools from the Constitution’s antidiscrimination requirements if the rebuffing of nonbelievers is considered essential to “maintain the ethos of the school.”

There is a citizens’ petition to repeal the law and a legal challenge is planned by Education Equality, an advocacy group. The bias clause has been challenged by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, and the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission has taken a position against it, too.

Church officials are at odds, with some urging a slow evolution toward a more open-door policy in the schools. Clearly the current policy is at odds with a modern Ireland. The most encouraging force in the debate is the Irish public’s realization that their nation can no longer afford shameful religious bias to remain in the law.

Editorial in Irish Examiner on 16 January 2016: Discrimination on the religion ground in our National Schools

This editorial reflects on the Irish state’s performance before the UN Committee of the Rights of the Child in Geneva last Thursday.

The proceedings there can be viewed on this webcast:


THOUGH Enda Kennys statements on the possibility of a referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment should he be returned to power of course falls some way short of a commitment, his suggestion that he anticipates a vote on the divisive issue will take place over the next couple of years is pretty close.

The Taoiseach seems to accept the issue must be resolved one way or another though he has expressed doubts that proposals to change the current legislation would be endorsed.

Earlier this week one of his ministers Childrens Minister James Reilly speaking after a day-long hearing at the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child in Geneva returned to a second deeply divisive issue when he argued that ending religious discrimination in schools admission policies may also require a constitutional referendum.

He said he did not believe it was right that children should be discriminated against on the basis of religious belief or nominal, pretend religious belief or lack of it when applying for a place in State-funded schools. He did, however, acknowledge the constitutional provisions that allow religious institutions protect their ethos.

That essentially gives control of our primary schools all of which are funded more or less 100% by the State to the Catholic Church, a situation that no longer reflects the make-up of this society.

Ironically, and in a particularly Irish way, the legislation that allows 96% primary schools turn away children on the basis of their religious beliefs is called the Equal Status Act.

Deepening that anachronistic and offensive irony, the minister of state, who on December 2 approved the right of schools to reject pupils on the basis of their religion or lack of it, is known as the minister for equality.

The Equal Status Act 2000 allows oversubscribed schools favour children who share the schools patrons religious beliefs.

This, no matter how it is dressed up, discriminates against some children at the very moment that they should expect the States full support and encouragement.

At the very point the State should embrace young citizens from every background, it, or more accurately its agent, uses the baptised-or-not filter to rule on who gets a particular school place or not.

This is, no matter how enthusiastically it is dressed up, religious segregation and makes second class citizens of an ever greater number of Irish children.

The situation might be less fraught if there were more school places in areas where schools are oversubscribed but there are not and that shortcoming cannot be used to perpetuate an inequity.

Those who wish to preserve the current monopoly occasionally argue that under new patronage, many schools would become ethics-free zones and that religious education would be sidelined.

This, of course, is bunkum. Religious education would be available for those who wish to avail of it but it, or at least an exclusive version of it, might not enjoy todays unquestioning centrality.

New school patronage arrangements might also be an opportunity to place a new emphasis on the kind of civic morality so obviously absent on so many fronts.