Michael Staines
Michael Staines

10.45 14 Jan 2021


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The Mother and Baby homes report has highlighted the need to end the dominance of the Catholic Church over Ireland’s education system, according to the Labour Party.

The Commission of Education report published this week found an ‘appalling’ death rate among children sent to Mother and Baby Homes.

It notes that the mistreatment of unmarried mothers and their children was “supported by, contributed to, and condoned by, the institutions of the State and the Church.”

Is it time to end the Catholic Church's dominance in Ireland's school system?

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The Labour Party Education spokesman Aodhán Ó Ríordáin has warned that Ireland has not fundamentally changed in the years since and called for an end to the “over-dominance of the Catholic religion over our education system.”

Noting that 91% of children in Ireland still attend Catholic primary schools, Deputy Ó Ríordáin said the Government “doesn’t really take as much responsibility for the running of our schools as it should.”

“The issue we were discussing during the week was an over dominance of one religion over the actions of the State and we still have that dominance in terms of primary school education,” he said.

He said there is no need for education to be intertwined with religion in a modern society.

“I don’t see why it needs to be there,” he said. “I understand the traditional reason why it is there and the legacy issues but I certainly think, from a Constitutional standpoint, we can investigate it and certainly, if were to start again, such a dominance of religion over our education system, I don’t think, is good for the future.”

Divestment

Responding, Seamus Mulconry General Secretary of Catholic Primary School Management Association, said the Church is fully agreed on the need for divestment of schools away from the Church.

“The bishops have already indicated they are open to divestment where there is a local demand,” he said. “I think there is agreement on that and in the fullness of time that will occur.

“I have yet to meet a bishop who is opposed to divestment.”

“I do think there is a need to divorce this from the report which has just come out. I think policies should be debated on their merits not historical analogies and I think that is important.”

Church education

Deputy Ó Ríordáin agreed that the Church has indicated its willingness to divest but warned that up to now, “it just hasn’t happened.”

“While all the good feelings and the nice words have been uttered, the reality on the ground is that nothing has changed,” he said.

He rejected claims that Catholic patronage is “not an issue” for most parents and pointed to situations where misinformation stood in the way of divestment.

“I have heard that about any amount of social progress over the years in terms of different campaigns,” he said. “That people don’t care.

“They don’t care until there is a reason for them to care and I would also make the point that I am aware of one case where there was a suggested divestment and the amount of misinformation that was put around the community was incredible.

“There were accusations that children would no longer be able to say Christmas and things like that.”

Local opposition

Mr Mulconry said divestment is simply not a popular policy in many communities and said the biggest problem schools face when they attempt to divest is local opposition.

“I am aware of numerous instances where there was heartfelt strong local resistance and no misinformation,” he said. “The reality is that this has never been a popular policy.

“Now, I do believe the demand for divestment is growing and that needs to be addressed and to be met but the reason it is so complex and it has taken so long is that within school communities, there are very few communities where there is a clear strong majority in favour of divestment.

“In most cases, the school community is divided and usually, it is a minority in favour.”

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Is it time to end the Catholic Church's dominance in Ireland's school system?

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