Access to education in Ireland for non-Catholics

Piaras Kelly has a post on his blog about multi-culturism in Ireland and he raises some interesting issues.

He references a situation which hit the headlines here recently when children of non-Catholic parents were unable to access school places for their children.

I was appalled last week to read the comments of Anne McDonagh, director of education at the Archdiocese of Dublin, who stated that the Archdiocese is not interested in providing an education for children of parents who are not interested in a Catholic education. Speaking to the Irish Times (subscription required), McDonagh said “We must stick to our enrolment policy of providing an education for Catholic children and siblings first. This enrolment policy has been public and unchanged since the Education Act 1998.” The comments came in the wake of an emergency school being built for 90 children who were unable to secure places in catholic schools.

While I agree with Piaras’ outrage at this situation, I think his anger is mis-directed.

The problem here is that successive Irish Governments have abdicated responsibility for educating the states children. They were happy to let the Catholic church educate the children because it saved the state a fortune!

And we now have the anomalous situation where the Dept of Education doesn’t employ any teachers! All teachers are employed by the individual school’s further avoiding any financial liabilities for the state if the teachers mis-behave.

As a result of this fiasco, the Catholic church stepped in and now run 90% of the schools in the country. This is something we should be grateful to the Catholic church for (and angry with the government for!).

The Catholic church has no mandate to teach children of non-Catholic parents – no more than we would expect a Buddhist school to be mandated to accept Catholic kids.

The education of children in Ireland is the State’s responsibility. If there are not enough non-denominational places in Irish schools, it is only because the state hasn’t provided them.

The running of the schools in Ireland by the Catholic church is an anachronism.

The Department of Education needs to face up to its responsibilities and take over the running our schools (it is the norm in every other country) and not leave it up to the church or any other organisation. This is not just my opinion, the UN has been telling the Irish Government this for at least two years now.

10 thoughts on “Access to education in Ireland for non-Catholics”

  1. This is something that we are currently having to face, having just started our four year old in a small school in the rural South-East (we are agnostics).

    No matter what ones religious background as parents, I do not believe that there is justification in an education system being provided by a religious body. Religion and eduction should be separate.

    If people wish to bring their children up in a religious family and instill those values on them, the education of that belief system should be their responsibility (wasn’t that what Sunday School used to be about)?

    As for the state taking over responsibility, I think that’s going to take a monumental effort by a lot of people to force the change. I fear that the majority of the populous, no matter what their thoughts on the matter, are too weak to challenge what they see as a sacred cow (pun intended) and would rather simply let traditions roll on. What a shame.

  2. Hi Tom

    Back during times of the foundation of the state I think it was hard to tell where the state stopped and the church began. The Church may have stepped in but I’m sure they were more than willing …. what an amazing position of power over the culture for the church to assume. It was really another form of colonialism. I went to a church school too and to this day I really wish I hadnt – my early experience would have been totally different but none of us had a choice. Still I think Ireland is not unique here. Even in England to this day, certainly around where I used to live in London all the good schools are church run and state run schools seems to be at the back of the pack.

    I’m not sure though I follow your logic that the church should have no obligation to teach non catholics. The teachers maybe employed by the school but if I am not mistaken, they are paid for and regulated by the Dept of Education. So if the public money is going in to these church schools then I think they should have an obligation to serve the wider community.

    Cheers
    James

  3. the government and the church colluded in this, as evidenced by recent speeches the catholic church doesn’t think secularist have morals or values, thus they wouldn’t allow THEIR children to educated by them, education is a means of control its no altruistic accident.

  4. I’ve been thinking about this question for a while, since the Teaching Council meeting a few weeks ago.

    At present, all the Primary Teaching Training Colleges (Mary I, St. Pats, Marino, Froebel) in Ireland are all denominational and Catholic/CoI. What if a member of the Muslim or Jewish or Hindu (or other) wanted to become a primary teacher straight out of second level? They would be forced to go to one of the schools above. Mary won’t be able to keep them out because if they’ve been educated here, they’ll have the Irish (you need to have Honours Irish at Leaving Cert).

    Why should they be subjected to the Catholic/CoI ethos of these institutions when all they are trying to do is train to be a teacher? I’m guessing they would win a case in the European Court of Human Rights on this issue.

    Also, related to this is the fact that Mary is trying to get the VEC to make a new multi-denominational model for primary schools. Who does she think will be able to teach in these schools since the teacher training colleges here don’t provide instruction on world religions. Well, no, they do actually provide a few lectures on them which are delivered via a priest!!

    If one suggests the Hibernia College, it is also not an equal option.

    Hibernia is an 18month post-grad course so our student (Let’s call her Fatima) would have to do a 4 year degree first, then apply to do the Hibernia. Hibernia is an online course and is far dearer than MaryI/StPats/Marino route. Also, it’s a lot harder to get a job if you are a Hibernia grad and there is resentment by some teachers about them. Her other option would be to go abroad to teacher training college, but again, why should she have to?

  5. Back during times of the foundation of the state I think it was hard to tell where the state stopped and the church began. The Church may have stepped in but I’m sure they were more than willing …. what an amazing position of power over the culture for the church to assume. It was really another form of colonialism. I went to a church school too and to this day I really wish I hadnt – my early experience would have been totally different but none of us had a choice. Still I think Ireland is not unique here. Even in England to this day, certainly around where I used to live in London all the good schools are church run and state run schools seems to be at the back of the pack.

    I’m not sure though I follow your logic that the church should have no obligation to teach non catholics. The teachers maybe employed by the school but if I am not mistaken, they are paid for and regulated by the Dept of education. So if the public money is going in to these church schools then I think they should have an obligation to serve the wider community.

    Cheers
    James

  6. Just a few comments on the previous comments. Firstly as a Hibernia graduate myself I have to say that Hibernia also have a Religion Module. If they didn’t we would be unable to get a job in a Catholic school (i.e. the majority of schools) in this country. Secondly schools are exempt from the Equality Employment legislation. In other words, a Catholic school is legally entitled to refuse to employ someone on the grounds that their religion would be at odd with the ethos of their school. Could this be stretched to cover someones life style e.g. an openly gay person or a lone parent? As a teacher I have to play along with this even though I do not agree with it. I came across this site as I was brousing the net. I am hoping to do a postgraduate on this very topic so please keep the comments coming!

  7. Oh my God, it’s unaceptable tbat, in the XXI century, inside a country that grows economically at significant rates and tends to increase its participation into the EU, educational segregation occurs due to religious matters.

    To me, the role of religion in educational process is very different than the role of religious entities. In several countries, including Brazil, many religious entities provide a very good private education, based in the laicism of our culture.

    However, many might say that in Ireland religious culture is stronger, and so, it is a door for the prejudice (i couldn’t think in any better word). But this argumentation is poor, cause we can cite the example of Spain, where the best private education is provided by religious entities, but is not lacked to agnostics, protestants or muslims.

    In fact, what is happening in Ireland, and this post really shocked me, only is detrimental to the country, in economical, social, international and moral aspects.

  8. Wow, my parents were born in Ireland, i live in Canada now and am a teacher and I’m shocked to also see the issues of church and state being so strong in the 21st century!

    I can only hope that the Department of Education in Ireland gets into the modern age and out of the archaic age! Siobhan

  9. I can’t believe that in this day and age the Irish government say my child is not worth an education, this country is still run by the catholic church, I thought that would have to end when so many of different cultures were allowed to come into and settle in Ireland, how insulted and amazed they must feel, I can only pray that some day the government will allow the people a say and not let the bishops talk for them, meanwhile I am left to try to find an education for my three year old daughter and if or maybe I should say when I can’t get one I will have to emagrate

  10. I came accross this website by chance. I find it interesting that here in America, most conservatives (non-catholic and catholic) would want any religious school instead of our state run public school system where they have thrown christianity out of the classroom, study all other world religions during social studies, and teach our children about promiscuity, Aids, drugs, etc. In fact, in most of our cities, a lot of parents pay for their students to attend religious schools to try to get their students into a safer environment, away from drugs and gangs. Here in America most states allow some form of homeschooling, where the parent is the teacher. Charter schools have also become popular, where parents have a major influence, but the Charter accepts public funding, has state certified teachers, but can run classes and teach differently from the normal public school. In fact, in America most kids in our local Catholic High School do not appear to be Catholic. The Catholic schools in America have the same mandate, to educate Catholics first. I had not realized though that in Ireland all the schools are run by the Church.

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