Union fury over 'legal prejudice' against gay teachers
SCHOOLS are being allowed to discriminate against teachers who are gay or living with a partner, a top union official claimed yesterday.
Religious schools are granted a special exemption from the employment equality acts where they believe a teacher is undermining its religious ethos.
The deputy general secretary of the Irish National Teachers Organisation, Noel Ward, said the exemption was having a chilling effect on many teachers.
Mr Ward told the INTO congress that, even if gay or cohabiting teachers were not in any way undermining the ethos of the school in which they taught, there was evidence that some employers may take the view that their lifestyle or orientation amounts to "undermining".
He noted a letter to newspapers last month, in which a parish priest said he was "aghast" at the Civil Partnership Bill and added "with this legislation, the Ireland of religion we know is effectively sundered".
Mr Ward said: "Reading the letter I envisage the author not just as a parish priest but as a chair of a board of management of one or more schools. And I think: how will he react if a teacher in his employment avails of the legislation to register a civil ceremony?"
He also referred to a newspaper article by a representative of the Iona Institute attacking the INTO position because it would oblige schools to employ people who "in word or deed" undermined their ethos. "What kind of deed could be imagined? The author provides examples of people who might undermine ethos and the first of these is 'an openly homosexual teacher'.
"Two issues arise here. First, it appears that 'openly' is the undermining factor and the message is to hide your orientation unless you're heterosexual.
"Second, how on earth can a teacher simply by being homosexual undermine a school's ethos? What kind of weak, uncertain ethos is it that can be undermined just because we all know a teacher is gay or lesbian?" Mr Ward asked.
He said it was time to confine the relevant Section 37.1 in the equality legislation to history and was supported by a succession of speakers.
Mary Loftus of the union's Central Executive Committee felt that the section provided an out clause for denominational schools that left teachers in a very vulnerable position.
Wicklow delegate Fintan Cronin told congress that it was wrong for an act of the Oireachtas to regard primary schools as "religious institutions". "It is appalling that a church mired in scandal should be given power to discriminate against teachers on religious or lifestyle grounds. It is morally wrong and unconscionable," Mr Cronin said.
A motion deploring the continuing existence of the exemption and demanding its removal was unanimously adopted.