Government must respect right of Catholic schools to teach their faith: QuinnTuesday, May 8th, 2012
The Minister for Education, Ruairi Quinn (pictured), has said he does not believe the Catholic Church will agree to divest its schools if it feels that it is being curtailed in how it teaches Catholicism.
Speaking in the Seanad last week in a debate on the Report of the Advisory Group to the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism, Mr Quinn said that this was his own personal view and is, “not what is stated in the report.” He added that he would welcome a debate on the issue.
He said, “It is unreasonable for people - myself included - to want the Catholic church to voluntarily and in an orderly manner divest itself of churches (sic) which it owns, albeit paid for in many cases by the taxpayer and located on church or religious grounds, so that we can accommodate other demands in terms of gaelscoileanna and at the same time to tell it, in respect of its stand-alone schools, that its hands must be tied behind its back.
“That is my own personal view. It is not what is stated in the report. I would welcome a debate on this issue. I do not believe we will get agreement from the Catholic community on the divesting of schools if it believes it is to be curtailed in terms of how it celebrates and teaches Catholicism to its own community.”
The report made a number of recommendations about denominational schools that critics said would undermine the identity of those schools.
Among other proposals, the report recommends the abolition of Rule 68, which allows denominational schools to permeate their day with their own ethos, and the amendment of the Equal Status Act so that the right of such schools to admit children of their own faith first, will be curtailed.
In addition, it is suggested that denominational schools give equal prominence to the religious symbols of all faiths, and that prayers be, “respectful,” of the beliefs of all children.
Earlier in the debate, Fine Gael Senator Fidelma Healy-Eames said that the Government needs to, “hasten slowly,” in handling the divestment of Catholic schools.
She said that the big concern of those to whom she had spoken, “is that those who shout loudest will get what they want and that the views of the silent majority, who are happy with current patronage, will be ignored.” She also expressed concerns at moves being pursued by the Department of Education to amalgamate small rural schools.
“The gradual erosion of rural schools, through the process the Minister is engaged in following budget 2012, looks like it will lead to forced amalgamation in many cases. Is there a patronage agenda behind that process?
“The parish is the unit of belonging throughout the country. If these schools are amalgamated against their wishes out of necessity, is there a danger they will have a lesser identity?”
Senator Rónán Mullen said he took a critical view of the report. He said he agreed with much of what the report had to say about the divestment process, which, he said, was needed to facilitate greater diversity.
However he said that the report is, “imbued with a strong sense of the need to cater for those who wish to be free of any religious influence, but it is somewhat tone deaf when it comes to the great majority of people who are not only content with our school system as it is but who value the very denominational spirit that imbues the school to which they have chosen to send their children.”
He added, “In my view the report is not sufficiently respectful of the legitimate rights of a majority in Irish society. It is a strange thing that many people will agree that there needs to be more diversity, and most reasonable people will agree with that, but what is interesting is that there is strong support for the right of parents to choose schools that reflect the particular values.
“We need to avoid pandering excessively to extremes, whether it is the extreme view represented in the choice of a particular patron of a non-church school to exclude a person because she is pregnant, in violation of every time-honoured Judeo-Christian principle of respecting human dignity, to the minority in some cases who would resent that there would even be a crucifix on the wall of a school.
"They are a vocal minority in our society and it is important to respect their rights but not to pander excessively to their rights because if one does so, one will end up interfering with the rights of a greater number of people.”
by Tom O'Gorman