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.

Letter to Editor today in Irish Examiner

John Colgan has a Letter to Editor in today’s Irish Examiner about the ‘Rules for National Schools (1965)’.

The letter needs to be read in the context that these Rules are not a true statement of the current rules governing our National Schools as no codification has taken place since 1965.

The education minister’s mention of the “Rules for National Schools, 1965” as archaic on the cusp of a general election truly exemplifies the expression ‘kicking the can down the road’.

For while the rules have been in place for 50 years, they were, and remain, a detached, subversive piece of work, typical of the State’s biggest spending department, Education.

No act of parliament was made enabling them to extensively alter the preceding early 18th century legal arrangements.

They were never published as a statutory instrument under the Statutory Instruments Act, 1947, nor were they laid before the Oireachtas for the approval or amendment of the two Houses, which the 1947 Act required.

They were merely issued by the education minister of the day, Patrick Hillery. Parliament was sidelined by the department.

The back staircase in the department’s Marlborough St offices is called ‘Staighre na nEaspag’ — the bishops’ staircase — and clearly their hands are all over these rules.

Who else would put in the hands of a minister of a Republic words that religion is the most important subject in a school?

No minister and no secretary general has the competence to make such a judgment for society. Ever since, there’s been a slide away from the national school system as established in the 19th century. This system was approved by the then Catholic archbishops of Armagh and Dublin.

Then religious instruction and secular education were compartmentalised, allowing room for students of every faith and none to attend one school without being proselytised in the process.

Interweaving religion with secular subjects never had any place in the State’s vocational schools; no harm came of it.

The invention of the late 1980s, ‘religious ethos’ — which finds no mention in the Constitution — undermines pupils’ constitutional rights in publicly funded schools. The bishops have clout disproportionate to their negligible stake in our national schools.

The next governments needs to reclaim them.

Let us be a real republic for 2016.

John Colgan

Dublin Road Street


Co Kildare