Religious discrimination in access to education to continue.

Proposed legislation and draft regulations due to be published today will not outlaw religious discrimination in access to education.

The legislation is aimed at removing concerns that schools are cherry-picking students but does not deal with the issue of religious discrimination in access to education.

The consultation process for the legislation took place in 2011. In their Submission to the process one of the main concerns of the Irish Human Rights Commission was freedom from discrimination, the respect for privacy and the right to freedom of religion, conscience and thought, including the philosophical convictions of parents and children.

The proposed legislation does not deal with these issues and this government will continue to ignore the human rights of secular parents and their children.

The Irish Human Rights Commission (IHRC) has recommended to Government that it should ensure that all children have effective access to primary and secondary schools in their local catchment area.

The following are the main recommendations of the Irish Human Rights Commission (a statutory body). Education is a human right and the recommendations are aimed at ensuring that Ireland complies with its human rights obligations. The state is obliged to ensure that ALL parents and children enjoy their human rights in the education system. This proposed legislation fails to guarantee the human rights of secular parents and their children.  

“In its submission to the Department of Education and Skills ‘Discussion Paper on a Regulatory Framework for School Enrolment’, the IHRC noted that 97% of schools in the State are under the patronage and management of religious denominations and that this has significant implications for school admission policies, particularly for pupils of minority religious or non-faith background. The IHRC grounded its submission on two key principles; namely (1) that the State is responsible for regulating school admissions policies and (2) that such policies should be compatible with those human rights obligations the State has committed itself to. Such human rights obligations were listed by the IHRC as including freedom from discrimination, the respect for privacy and the right to freedom of religion, conscience and thought, including the philosophical convictions of parents and children.

Particular groups of children were identified by the IHRC in its submission as requiring special attention in school enrolment policies – children from minority groups (including people of a minority faith or of no faith), children with disabilities (“special needs”), Traveller children and “newcomer” children (children of recent migrants to the State).

Dr Maurice Manning, President of the IHRC said

“The IHRC welcomes the initiative by the Minister for Education & Skills to review the current school enrolment process. We hope that our submission on Ireland’s human rights obligations in this sensitive area will assist the Government in its consideration of the best way forward on this issue. We can all agree that enrolment policies which respect the rights of all our children and their parents are in everyone’s interest. In our submission to Government, the IHRC recommends some practical steps which the State could take in the short term to make this happen, with a particular emphasis on the rights of children from minority faith or no faith groups, children with disabilities, Traveller children, and children of migrant families.”

The IHRC, in its submission to the Department, recommended that:

  • The State ensure a diversity of provision of school type within all educational catchment areas reflecting the diversity of religious and non-religious convictions represented in the State.

  • The State should put in place legislative measures to ensure that admission policies are free from discrimination, respect privacy and uphold the right to freedom of religion, conscience and thought, including the philosophical convictions of parents and children.

  • The Government should ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It should also commence section 10 of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act, 2004, while extending the provision to address the situation of any child left without a school place for whatever reason.

  • Pending further diversity in school provision, the Government should amend section 7 of the Equal Status Acts 2000-2008 which allows primary and second-level schools which have a particular denominational ethos to give preference in admission to students of a particular religious denomination over others and to refuse admission to such students where this is essential to uphold the ethos of the school.

  • Welcoming the recommendation to standardise admission forms, these forms should not compel parents to unnecessarily disclose their religious or philosophical convictions or other personal information that is unnecessary to the school enrolment process.

  • All admissions policies should be readily available to parents, possibly being provided through a centralised database. Schools in catchment areas should be required to co-operate to ensure effective access to all children in the area to those schools, with special measures designed to ensure access of children from minority groups, including persons of minority or no faith, Travellers, children with special needs and “newcomers”.

  • An expanded Ombudsman body should be created, whose remit should include complaints in relation to school enrolment, and which would have adequate powers to vindicate the rights of the child concerned in light of the human rights standards highlighted in the IHRC submission. “


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