Church Of Ireland Bishops Criticise School Cutbacks

Church of Ireland schools are small by virtue of the fact that they serve small communities. With present cuts to small schools, Church of Ireland children face losing their schools and their chance to receive an education through their religious ethos.

Batt O’Keeffe, following “unpublished legal advice,” supposedly from the Attorney General, decided that grants for Second level Protestant schools ‘could not continue,’ in 2009. Failure to fund same allowed O’Keeffe to save €2.8m each year, by regularising what he called “an anomaly…whereby Catholic fee-charging schools were not getting certain state grants that were paid to others.

This imaginary anomaly, discovered by O’Keeffe, had been first recognised and introduced by the late great Donagh O’Malley when he was establishing free education. Mr O’Malley saw the obvious need to give extra funds to minority Protestant schools, in their catering for dispersed communities, while allowing them to continue charging fees. In turn this enabled these schools to distribute a large portion of this State Aid, through grants to underprivileged students.

O’Keeffe’s move struck directly at the disadvantaged and ignored a long-standing commitment by governments to support a dispersed community, which could not access suitable free schools. It was also identified as a step backwards in respect of achieving a more pluralistic educational system. Church of Ireland schools have themselves always been models of pluralistic schools. They have successfully, harmoniously and inclusively accommodated pupils of multiple religious faiths and/or those seeking an alternative to schools under the patronage of the majority faith, for decades.

First let us see what Fine Gael stated while in opposition in 2009, beginning with Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny:  “Protestant schools are being ‘got at,’ and we recognise the special position that the Protestant Church has in our society’ and I wants for that position to be maintained.” Well they are now being ‘got at,‘ again, and perhaps North Tipperary Fine Gael TD Noel Coonan might like to take that message back to Mr Kenny and Minister for Education Mr Ruairi Quinn.

Our national TV channels appear to have dismissed as insignificent, the news today, that nine Church of Ireland Bishops strongly criticised cuts to small schools, the latter which they state will have a major and destructive impact on Protestant communities right across the country of Ireland.

These Bishops correctly point out, in their statement, that agreed staffing cuts will have a disproportionate impact on Church of Ireland schools. They said that this amounts to a test case of the nation’s commitment to citizens who belong to all religious minorities.

Of the 174 schools of which they are patron, 130 are classified as being small schools and as a consequence will be directly affected by cuts in mainstream class teachers. They point out that this is a very dramatic statistic and state that, “No other single issue has caused such a degree of anxiety among their communities in recent years,” as many of the small Church of Ireland schools, especially those in rural areas, are unable to amalgamate.

The Bishops confirm that staffing cuts mean 38 of their schools may now have to become one teacher schools and this is tantamount to a decision to close them.

In respect of Church of Ireland (COI) teachers’ job prospects, sections 12 and 37 of the Employment Equality Act permits institutions under a particular religious patronage to give more favourable treatment to a prospective employee on religious grounds in order to maintain the religious ethos of that institution.  In other words, it is highly unlikely that a C O I teacher will now get a job in any Roman Catholic school. Why would a school under Roman Catholic patronage higher a C O I teacher, if they are not qualified to teach the Roman Catholic ethos and prepare Roman Catholic children for Communion and Confirmation?

Certain questions need to be answered by this Coalition Government:-

  1. Where will Church of Ireland teachers now find jobs if their schools are closed?
  2. Where does Ireland now stand in relation to its EU partners and their insistence on the development of a more pluralistic educational system?
  3. Can the Irish economy no longer afford to advance pluralism?
  4. Are we seriously to believe that our founding fathers and the framers of our Constitution envisaged a situation where this Irish Republic would become a hostile place for the children of a Protestant minority?

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