Third review of Dail debate on Education (Amendment) Bill 2010

This is a review by our Lobbying Officer Conor McGrath of some of the key features of this resumed debate from the perspective of Atheist Ireland, so that we can then go on to think about what sort of briefing we might want to provide at the Committee Stage.

On 2 December the Dail concluded debating the Education (Amendment) Bill 2010. This was a second stage debate, after the first stage which was the introduction of the Bill in September. You can read the debate transcripts on the Oireachtas website:

There were only three speakers in this final section of the Second Stage debate on the Education (Amendment) Bill.

Trevor Sargent TD noted the record of VECs in secondary education, but suggested that it would be more sensible to promote a greater role for Educate Together at the primary level.

Terence Flanagan TD stated, “Currently, 92% of education in this country is provided by religious orders, which is unsustainable in the long term.” He called for a national forum on patronage so that parental wishes can be better taken into account.

Replying to the debate, Áine Brady TD (Minister of State at the Department of the Health and Children) asserted that, “Most Deputies would also agree that, given this track record, the VECs are the appropriate vehicle for the State’s active participation in primary education provision.” She rejected the calls for a general debate on patronage at this time.

The Minister went on to say: “The ethos of the community national schools is based on inclusivity and respect for diversity. The schools have a specific aim of seeking to cater for all faiths and none during the school day. This ethos will uphold the rights of all children, parents and teachers in the schools and in that respect I am satisfied the State will fulfil its international and other obligations in this area.”

Finally, she failed to address in any detail the specific points Atheist Ireland raised in its briefs: “Section 5, which deals with governance of the VEC primary schools, is an important provision. I have noted the comments made by Deputies and they will be addressed in detail on Committee Stage.”

The Bill was given its Second Reading, and now moves to the Select Committee on Education and Skills, though no date has yet been announced for that stage of the process. We have already written to all members of the committee, asking them to invite interested parties to give evidence about patronage and school ethos before they consider the Bill in detail; if they decide to do so, Atheist Ireland is likely to be asked to appear, but no decision has been announced to date.


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