Schools ignore obligations under Constitution and European Convention on Human Rights

The Court of Appeal found that, when it interprets the obligations of a Board of Management under the Education Act 1998, it must have regard to the terms of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Probably no Board of Management in the country is even aware what obligations they have in relation to the European Convention.

Justice Whelan in the recent Burke case at the Court of Appeal stated that:-

“38. The European Convention on Human Rights Act 2003 provides:

“2. (1) In interpreting and applying any statutory provision or rule of law, a court shall, in so far as possible, subject to the rules of law relating to such interpretation and application, do so in a manner compatible with the State’s obligations under the Convention provisions.

Thus in interpreting the obligations of the Board pursuant to the Education Act of 1998 (as amended) regard must be had to the terms of the Convention.”

Wilson’s Hospital school is a publicly funded school under the patronage of the Church of Ireland. If courts must have regard to the European Convention in this school then they also must have regard to the European convention in schools under the patronage of the Catholic church.

Under Section 62-7 (n) of the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018 Boards of Management are obliged to put in their Admissions policies:

An admission policy shall—

provide details of the school’s arrangements in respect of any student, where the parent of that student, or in the case of a student who has reached the age of 18 years, the student, has requested that the student attend the school without attending religious instruction at the school (which arrangements shall not result in a reduction in the school day in respect of the student concerned)

The purpose of this Section of the Act was so that parents would know the arrangements in relation to not attending religious instruction before choosing a school fo their child. Boards of Management just ignore this and ask parents to a meeting, or just make up definitions for religious instruction that have no legal standing.

Section 15-2(b) of the Education Act 1998 requires Boards of Management in publishing Admission policies to ensure that they:

publish, in such manner as the board with the agreement of the patron considers appropriate, the policy of the school concerning admission to and participation in the school”, and ensure that the:

constitutional rights of all persons concerned, are complied with,

Leaving children in the Religious instruction class when they have a Constitutional right to not attend breaches their constitutional and human rights. It also breaches Article 2 of Protocol 1 of the European Convention.

Boards of Management offer no other subject to children if they exercise their right to not attend religious instruction. They also just ignore their legal obligation to put the arrangements for students who exercise their Constitutional right in the Admission policy of the school.

The Oireachtas has failed to protect the rights of minorities in the education system, as they have no statutory regulations in place. The Minister for education, in administering the right, has failed in her duty to ensure that it is implemented in schools. Schools are allowed to decide for themselves how to implement the right, and in practice they just ignore it and leave children in the religion class.

The European court in the Papageorgiou and Others v. Greece case in 2019 stated that:-

87. The Court considers that the current system of exemption of children from the religious education course is capable of placing an undue burden on parents with a risk of exposure of sensitive aspects of their private life and that the potential for conflict is likely to deter them from making such a request, especially if they live in a small and religiously compact society, as is the case with the islands of Sifnos and Milos, where the risk of stigmatisation is much higher than in big cities. The applicant parents asserted that they were actually deterred from making such a request not only for fear of revealing that they were not Orthodox Christians in an environment in which the great majority of the population owe allegiance to one particular religion (see Grzelak v. Poland, no. 7710/02, § 95, 15 June 2010), but also because, as they pointed out, there was no other course offered to exempted students and they were made to lose school hours just for their declared beliefs.

88. Although the first two applicants in application no. 4762/18 and the first applicant in application no. 6140/18 were under no obligation to disclose their religious convictions, requiring them to submit a solemn declaration amounted to forcing them to adopt behaviour from which it might be inferred that they themselves and their children hold – or do not hold – any specific religious beliefs (see, mutatis mutandis, Alexandridis, cited above, § 38, and Dimitras and Others v. Greece, nos.42837/06, 3237/07, 3269/07, 35793/07 et 6099/08, § 78, 3 June 2010).

Atheist Ireland will continue to campaign for Constitutional and Human Rights and to ensure that children do not continue to leave their rights at the school gate.


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