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.
The Irish state is pushing parents to the brink of despair with its religion-based school enrolment laws. I can vouch for this because I am one of them. The birth of my beautiful boy Cormac back in March was a time of unbridled joy, but I learned shortly afterwards that our local state primary school is oversubscribed. Since then, because he is not baptised, the draining uncertainty as to where he might eventually be accepted has grown by the day, along with my understanding of the arcane world of school enrolment in Ireland.
Irish law allows state-funded schools to turn away children and discriminate in enrolment on the basis of religion. Section 7(3)(c) of the Equal Status Act 2000 states that schools operated by religious institutions can favour children of their own denomination in enrolment – despite the fact they are entirely funded by taxpayers. In Ireland, about 90% of primary schools are controlled by the Catholic church (most of the remainder are under the patronage of other religious institutions), so this can fairly and accurately be called the “Catholics first” law – though in my experience most Catholics, including my close friends and relatives, consider it repugnant.