Religious discrimination in state schools is based on “historic traditions”, says Department of Education

In Ireland we have mostly publicly funded religious schools and some publicly funded state schools, and they all discriminate on religious grounds.

Atheist Ireland is in correspondence with the Dept of Education regarding the nine state schools where they are patron. You can read about past correspondence here and here

Ireland has nine state schools at primary level. Five of these schools are Catholic and four Protestant. We have been informed that some of these schools discriminate in enrolment in favour of children from religious families and all have either Catholic or Protestant religious instruction classes.

In a letter dated 12th of December 2014 the Dept of Education & Skills has informed us that these schools operate as Catholic or Protestant schools in accordance with the historic traditions that go back to their foundation and the community to be served at the time they were established. However, according to the website of the Dept of Education & Skills these schools were actually established as non-denominational schools. They have evolved into religious schools and they discriminate on religious grounds.

So, despite the fact that the Department’s letter gives a different account than its website of the foundation of these schools, the bottom line remains the same: if state schools discriminate on religious grounds, they can get away with it because in Ireland religious discrimination has become a ‘historic tradition’ that must be protected by the state.

Here are the two most recent letters in our correspondence with the Department on this issue.

We have written back as follows to the Dept of Education and Skills:

RE: Religious Discrimination in Athy Model School, and in other Model Schools that are under the direct patronage of the Dept of Education & Skills.

Thank you for your letter dated 12th December 2014. Unfortunately we must point out again that you have not clarified the issues, and you have not responded to any of our concerns with regard to your human rights obligations. You have also given no response to why the Admissions Policy of An Mhodhscoil in Limerick gives preference in access to staff from the Dept of Education & Skills. Please note that we have sent your last response to the Irish Human Rights & Equality Commission and will also send on this letter.

These schools were not originally denominational

You point out in your letter that:-

“These schools operate as Catholic or Protestant schools in accordance with the historic traditions that go back to their foundation and the community to be served at the time they were established.”

According to your own website these Model Schools were originally set up as nondenominational, so they were not historically Catholic or Protestant but evolved as such. We cannot accept that it is in order for the Dept of Education & Skills as the Patron body to continue to ignore the human rights of minorities in these schools just because there is a historic tradition to do so.

The document you referred us to

With regard to our concerns about human rights we would like to refer you to your previous letter dated 31st of October 2014 (your Ref 1403485/AK) on the subject of these Model schools. In this letter you refer us to a document entitled;

Forum on Patronage and Pluralism in the Primary Sector: Progress to Date and Future Directions which was published on the 1st of July 2014.

The opening statement in this document from the previous Minister for Education, Ruairi Quinn states that:-

“It is important that Ireland continues to be seen as a country which upholds human rights. We cannot allow the country to run the risk of being the subject of ongoing criticism in this regard. I am publishing this paper in order to promote greater discussion and debate on how we can ensure that all our pupils feel welcome and included in school.”

The Document also goes on to say that:-

“It is essential for the education system to adapt and evolve to reflect the changes in the society it serves and to uphold the rights of all pupils”,

and that:-

“Ireland undertakes to protect the human rights set out therein by becoming a party to these treaties and conventions. It should also be noted that these human rights attach to all individuals and that thresholds do not apply to their realisation i.e. rights accruing to sufficiently large groups but not to individuals.”

“Ireland has a good record in the arena of promoting and respecting human rights. It is important that we continue to live up to the high standards set in international conventions. Ireland will continue to be the subject of international criticism if it does not move to address the concerns raised by the Monitoring Committees of the international human rights treaties to which it is a party. Ireland is also obliged to protect the constitutional rights of all its citizens and to ensure that public policy evolves and develops to promote the protection of these rights.”

As you can appreciate, we cannot understand why the Dept of Education & Skills as a matter of policy would not lead the way and move to address the disregard for human rights in these Model schools. The Admission to Schools Bill will not oblige the Boards of Management of these schools to remove their discriminatory policies and respect the human rights of all. It is difficult to expect schools under various Patron bodies to address the human rights issues in their schools, if the Dept of Education & Skills is not leading the way by addressing them in schools where they are the Patron and where they have the legal power to do so.

What we are requesting

We again ask that you respond to all our questions in our previous letters regarding these Model Schools and our concerns regarding human rights, which you also raised in your
document Forum on P Patronage and Pluralism in the Primary Sector: Progress to Date and Future Directions.”

This is the letter from the Dept of Education dated 12th of December 2014 to which we were responding:

“Thank you for your further correspondence to the Minister for Education and Skills, Ms. Jan O’Sullivan TD in relation to Athy Model School.

It is the responsibility of the managerial authorities of all schools to implement an enrolment policy in accordance with the Education Act, 1998. In this regard a Board of Management may find it necessary to restrict enrolment to children form a particular area or a particular age group or on the basis of some other criterion. The criteria to be applied by schools in such circumstances are a matter for the schools themselves. This selection process and the enrolment policy on which it is based must be non-discriminatory and must be applied fairly in respect of all applicants.

Equality legislation, which also outlaws discrimination in relation to the admission of a student, makes provision for exemptions to apply in the case of single sex schools and in the case of schools where the objective is to provide education in an environment that promotes certain religious values. The legislation provides that any school that has this objective may admit a student of a particular religious denomination in preference to other students.

Model schools were originally established for the training of teachers and were managed by local inspectors. Model schools were found to be an expensive method of training teachers and their use for this purpose ceased with the schools continuing to function as ordinary schools.
The Education Act 1998 placed the patronage of schools on a statutory basis. The Minister as owner of the model schools became the Patron in accordance with the terms of the Act.

These schools operate as Catholic or Protestant schools in accordance with the historic traditions that go back to their foundation and the community to be served at the time they were established.

The Government gave approval in March of this year for drafting the Education (Admission to Schools) Bill 2014 and drafting is well advanced.

The objective of the Admission to Schools Bill is to provide an over-arching framework to ensure that how schools decide on who is enrolled and who is refused a place in schools is more structured, fair and transparent. A key objective in designing the framework is to create greater confidence for parents that the admission criteria laid down by schools are legitimate reasonable and fair.

The proposed regulatory framework when implemented will require all schools to review their admission policy in consultation with the school community.
I trust that the above clarifies the position for you.”

1 Comment

  1. Avatar
    steve white February 08, 2015

    when did Athy Model School and Mhodhscoil in Limerick go from ‘not originally denominational’ to denominational?


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