DUBLIN – After Ireland voted for same-sex marriage last year, the next field of social battle in this Catholic country will be education.
Although the number of practicing Catholics in Ireland has declined sharply over the past decade, the church still controls admission criteria at most schools in Ireland, and unbaptized children are at the bottom of waiting lists.
A campaign to stop what many non-Catholics condemn as discrimination is flaring up ahead of a general election expected in late February.
This could be another political blow to the Catholic Church, which has already been rocked by scandals involving child abuse and a sharp drop in Mass attendance. Ireland used to be a country where priests told parishioners how to vote from the pulpit, but the influence of the clergy has diminished over the past two decades as a result of same-sex marriage referendum showed in May.
Education remains the province of the church, which manages 90 per cent of Ireland’s state-funded primary schools. Few non-denominational schools have long waiting lists, leaving most parents with nothing but enrolling their children in a Catholic school.
This is an increasingly controversial issue as more parents choose secular parenting for their children. A poll Last March, it was found that although 93 per cent of Irish parents baptize their children, just over a third regularly take their children to Mass.
Although discrimination in education is prohibited, a section of the Equal Status Act allows schools to accept students of a particular religious denomination “preferring others” to preserve the spirit of the school.
Providing more places will help provide access to education, but will not solve the problem of religious discrimination in schools.
In cities, especially in Dublin, many schools are overcrowded, and there are often long waiting lists where local Catholic children tend to take first place.
Nicki Murphy’s 4-year-old son Ruben was not baptized and found himself at the bottom of a waiting list at schools in his area, all of which are Catholic. He was due to go to school last September, but returned to kindergarten for an extra year after his parents were unable to secure him a place in the classroom despite applying to nine schools.
“Ireland is changing”
“I felt each of these failures was a blow to the stomach,” Murphy said during the December launch of a campaign called Equality of education, which calls for full education regardless of the child’s religion. “Non-religious families and families of minors are at the bottom of everyone’s list when it comes to access to school,” she said.
“The vast majority of parents have no choice,” said April Duff, chair of the Equality Education Division.
Although most parties have not published their manifestos and election dates have not yet been announced, politicians expect education to be on the verge of campaigning for votes, especially in areas where schools have too many subscribers.
“The issue of admission is a very big issue in my region,” said Eagan Murphy, a member of parliament from Fine Gael, the main party in the current coalition government. “It always shows up at the door. Ireland is changing, there are many young parents and they want something different for their children. “
One of the parties that has already published its campaign manifesto is Renua Ireland, a newcomer founded by former European Minister and Fine Gael MP Lucinda Creighton. He calls admission to schools a priority, saying: “There is an urgent need for more diversity in terms of school spirit.”
Most parties are likely to agree that the issue needs to be addressed, but there may be differences in how.
Campaigns such as Education Equality are calling for the repeal of a clause that allows Catholic schools to dictate admission policies based on religion. The Irish Commission on Human Rights and Equality has recommended amend existing laws to eliminate discrimination in school enrollment.
Irish Education Minister Ian O’Sullivan of the Labor Party agrees. She called for new laws to ensure that denominational schools have places for local children who have not been baptized.
“We need to look at the Equal Status Act to make sure parents feel they don’t need to baptize their children into a religion they don’t believe in just to get a place at a local school,” she said. Irish Times.
However, Murphy of Fine Gael believes this will not be enough. The bill on admission, concerning choices in education and long waiting lists, “should absolutely be a priority, it should be the first thing the next Minister of Education should do.”
Access to education
Providing more places in denominational schools for unbaptized children will help ensure access to education, but it will not solve the problem of religious discrimination in schools, Duff said, adding that the religious ethos of schools is also a difficulty for non-religious. or children from religious minorities.
“Children are usually forced into a religion,” Duff said.
Schools must follow a standard curriculum with 30 minutes of religion per day. Parents may choose to have their children drop out of religious education, but in reality, Duff said, it often means they just sit at the end of class.
“They’re told different things at home and at school,” Duff said. “It creates conflict for children and parents and completely denies them freedom of religion.”
“It is not the minister’s duty to interfere in the spirit of religious schools” – Council of Bishops.
Earlier, O’Sullivan said she intends to repeal “Rule 68”, which states that religious instruction is “by far the most important” part of the school curriculum.
Irish Catholic Episcopal Council for Education condemned it’s like interference, saying, “It’s not the role of a minister to interfere with the spirit of religious schools.”
The government planned to rid a number of schools of Catholic patronage, but the process is slow and facing resistance, and only a few schools have been transferred to non-denominational educational organizations.
Debates on the role of religious bodies in education pit the opposing articles of the Irish Constitution against each other – guaranteeing the right to religious education and protection from religious discrimination.
According to Dafa, it is not about ending religion in education in Ireland, but about ensuring “equality for all and respect for people of all faiths.”