So, I’m back, and you know what that means. Ireland’s education system still sucks, at least when it comes to equal access for non-Christians.
You see, a couple of weeks ago an Irish delegation, led by our Justice Minister, Frances Fitzgerald, was in front of a United Nations panel to explain Ireland’s continued shortfall on several key human rights issues. As is always the case, the complete lack of options for children of non-Christian parents within the Irish system left many of the panelists scratching their heads. As I’ve discussed in an earlier post, the Irish patronage system for running schools is dominated by the Roman Catholic Church, who oversee the management and decide admission policies of 92% of our national schools.
Luckily, my daughter was accepted into a nearby, moderately Catholic school, but as the system currently stands they could have easily said ‘no’ due to her being unbaptised and there would have been no recourse for us. Personally, I think this is a horrible system that puts the whims of a religious body above the rights of Irish children, and it seems the UN panel is of a similar opinion. Yuval Shany pointed out to the Irish delegates that, given current legislation and the loopholes for religious order that are built into it, schools could
“openly discriminate in admissions policies between children on the basis of parents registered convictions.”
Irish delegate, Layla de Cogan Chin, responded that Ireland was committed to providing to all citizens’ educational needs and that when it came to the provision of religion-free, non-denominational schools,
“There is no obstacle to the establishment of secular or non-denominational schools if sought by a sufficiently-large number of parents if the required for patronage are fulfilled.”
Therein lies the heart of the problem. As long as the system is dominated by the Catholic Church, many non-practicing or non-believing nominal Catholic parents will continue to play the part in order to secure their child a place in nearby schools. This drives down the apparent demand for non-denominational schools because people are afraid that rocking the boat will mean not securing their child’s place. This takes pressure off of the government for providing such schools because not enough people are demanding them. The Catholic Church gets to continue claiming their are simply meeting the needs of a Catholic nation and nothing changes.
However, as far back as 2007, poll results were showing that over 80% of the Irish parents surveyed intended to let their children decide their own religion rather than making them join the Catholic Church. Combine that fact with declining attendance at weekly Mass and the increasing age of the average attendee, and it becomes obvious that Ireland’s current generation of young parents are becoming far more ambivalent to the proclamations of the clergy. This stands in stark contrast to the claims of the religious orders and their lobby groups that parents want to continue indoctrinating their children into the faith. As Cookie Monster would say,
“One of these things, is not like the other things.”
Now, the education issue is just one part of how Ireland is failing in its responsibilities due to the influence or interference of the Catholic Church. For a more complete analysis (including Ireland’s positions on reproductive health rights for women, oaths of office and employment rights), I recommend reading Atheist Ireland Chairperson Michael Nugent’s thoughts on the matter.