Ireland’s attempts to secularise its schools have turned to farce

Apr 11, 2019 by

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Catholic schools in Dublin are circulating misinformation about what divestment will mean. How are parents to make an informed decision?
Emer O’Toole –

In Ireland, 90% of primary schools are Catholic. This religious domination of public education is anomalous in a developed nation. It does not meet the needs of Ireland’s increasingly diverse population, or of the many citizens – religious or otherwise – who would rather that Catholicism was not afforded a privileged place in public life.

In 2012, a government report recognised the need for change and recommended that some schools divest their religious patronage. Progress has been slow. Though the church agrees that some divestment is necessary, at local level it is reluctant to cede power.

After a survey of parents of pre-school children in an area of Dublin apparently indicated that more than a quarter wanted multi-denominational education for their children, it was decided that one of the eight local Catholic primary schools should divest. In response, three Catholic schools circulated leaflets containing misinformation: that the loss of religious patronage would mean an end to the schools marking Christmas, Easter and even Halloween; the axing of healthy eating programmes and book clubs; the devaluing of grandparents; censorship of the Irish language; lack of safety on school tours; a drop in the standard of education; the imperilment of teachers’ jobs – in short, to “a Brexit-type disaster”.

Joe McHugh, the minister of education, has condemned this “inaccurate information” and took the unusual step of publicly asking the Catholic schools “not to issue claims that have no basis in fact”.

“Pancake Tuesday won’t be banned. Nor will holidays or celebrations associated with the ancient Celtic/pagan festival of Halloween.”

Incomprehensibly, the state all but handed over administration of the divestment process to the church. The result? Catholic schools denied parents any objective information on alternative patrons, then warned them that if they voted for divestment there would be no opportunity to reconsider once they learned details of the proposed replacement.

Source: Ireland’s attempts to secularise its schools have turned to farce | Emer O’Toole | Opinion | The Guardian

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