Press Releases

Press release from The Iona Institute

Forum recommendations would seriously undermine identity of denominational schools

April 10, 2012 – Some of the recommendations contained in the report of the Advisory Group to the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism in the Primary Sector released today “would seriously undermine the identity of denominational schools”, The Iona Institute has said.

The Advisory Group report makes a number of good suggestions about divestment of some denominational schools to new patron bodies. Divestment is necessary to achieve better diversity of school choice.

However, the recommendations contained in Section VI and VII would actually undermine this effort because if implemented in full they would seriously damage the ability of the remaining denominational schools to be meaningfully denominational. If they cannot be meaningfully denominational, then we will have less educational diversity, not more.

Section VI deals with so-called ‘stand-alone schools’, that is those schools which are the only ones to be found within a given radius.

Sections VI and VII set out how to make these schools more ‘inclusive’, but this would be achieved at the price of their identity and ethos.

For example, the recommendation that Rule 68 of the Rules for National Schools be deleted, rather than amended, would seriously weaken the right of denominational schools to permeate the school day with their ethos.

The recommendation that displays of religious objects “ought not to be exclusive to any one faith or tradition but should have a balance, reflective of the beliefs of children attending the schools” would appear to mean that a Christian school could not display a Christian symbol, say a crucifix, on its own on its premises.

In fact, it would appear that anything which would specifically mark out a Christian school as a Christian school is to be discouraged.

The report claims it is trying to uphold the rights of children and parents who do not belong to the faith of the school.

However, in the Lautsi judgement the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Italy can display crucifixes on their own on the walls of State schools and this does not breach the rights of non-Christians.

If this is the case with State-run schools, it is obviously much more the case with denominational schools.

Commenting on the recommendations, Dr John Murray of The Iona Institute said: “The recommendations in Section VI and VII present themselves in the language of ‘human rights’ but in fact they are a swingeing attack on the rights of parents who wish to send their children to meaningfully denominational schools”.

He continued: “If implemented, they would mean in effect that denominational schools could not permeate the day with their ethos, could not display Christian symbols on their own, and could not enrol children of the faith of the school ahead of other children.”

Dr Murray concluded: “It is to be hoped that Minister Ruairi Quinn will not accept these particular recommendations as they stand”.