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Friday 9 December 2016

Jan O'Sullivan faces backlash over removal of Catholic teaching privileges in national schools

Philip Ryan, Niall O’Connor and John Downing

Published 20/01/2016 | 20:00

Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan
Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan

EDUCATION Minister Jan O’Sullivan faced backlash from Labour Party colleagues over her plans to remove a rule that gives privilege to Catholic teachings in national schools weeks out of from the General Election.

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At tonight’s Parliamentary Labour Party meeting, a number of TDs expressed concerns over how abolishing the so-called ‘rule 68’ will be perceived in the lead up to the election.

Independent.ie understands TDs, mostly from rural constituencies, voiced their objections to Ms O’Sullivan’s plan to abolish a rule which states that religious teaching is “by far the most important” part of the school curriculum.

Ms O’Sullivan will move to abolish the rule which dates back to the 1920s next week.

“It’s a bit stupid doing away with the rule when we know it’s going to be divisive during the election,” a Labour source said.

However, a source close to the minister said there was a “modicum” of concern expressed about how the move would be perceived rather than opposition to abolishing the rule.

“It won’t change the day-to-day running of schools. It’s largely symbolic but the rule itself doesn’t’ reflect what is happening in schools at present,” the source said.

Ms O’Sullivan announced in December she planned to abolish the rule and there is currently a review of religion and ethics in classrooms being carried out on behalf of the Department of Education.

At the time, the minister said removing the rule would lead to a debate on how much time should be spent on religious teaching.

Meanwhile, Fine Gael TDs and Senators last night insisted that road repairs arising from the recent flooding must be fixed well ahead of the general election, expected late next month.

The party's Cork South West TD Jim Daly insisted that local people, especially in rural areas, must see action on the ground as soon as possible.

Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe told the weekly meeting of the Fine Gael parliamentary party at Leinster House that action will be taken in the coming weeks.  Mr Donohoe stressed that this was among the government priorities.

The meeting also heard from Galway and Mayo TDs, John O'Mahony, Sean Kyne and Michelle Mulherin, also warned that there were concerns in western seaboard constituencies about difficulties in getting GPs services. Health Minister Leo Varadkar replied that there were moves afoot to deal with the issue.

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