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: http://www.treatybodywebcast.org/crc-71st-session-ireland/

Editorial

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.

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?

http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates%20authoring/debateswebpack.nsf/takes/dail1978030800018?opendocument

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.