independent

Sunday 20 April 2014

Attack on fee paying schools is just symbolism

Imposing a form of apartheid on Protestant schools is something Labour claims to abhor, writes Eilis O'Hanlon

The Labour Party used to have to wrestle with its conscience before declaring victory and doing the wrong thing anyway. Now its conscience doesn't even bother fighting back, because it knows there's no point, leaving Labour to look around desperately for other opponents with whom to play the macho political street fighter.

And what better way to pretend to still be socialists than to beat up on some passing churchgoer whilst calling it integrity? First up were the Catholics, as Labour pulled the plug on the Vatican Embassy in one big Yah Boo Sucks gesture.

Then it was those crazy Jews in the firing line as Labour TDs broke off from totting up their projected pensions for a while to join the campaign against Israel's blockade of Gaza. You tell 'em, brothers. Now it's the turn of Protestants, as Labour suddenly wants to get stuck into fee-paying schools.

If there are any Zoroastrians in Ireland, you'd better watch out. You may well be next in line when Labour needs to convince the grassroots that they can still make James Connolly proud.

Of course, Labour claim to be planning a smash-and-grab raid on fee-paying schools purely in the name of "equality" and "social justice" and "whatever you're having yourself, comrade".

Just a pity they didn't adopt the same hard line when the HSE was cutting home help hours for the old and sick -- but hey, why let a little thing like consistency get in the way of a bit of class warfare? They never have before.

Some deputies even described the support for fee-paying schools as "educational apartheid". Nice one.

Nobody likes apartheid, right?

Someone should point out that there are much better ways of advancing the cause of egalitarianism than to flamboyantly pull the rug out from under the feet of pupils then standing back to soak up the applause from the Bolsheviks in the gallery.

Like telling the teaching unions to catch themselves on and stop resisting continuous assessment when all the evidence shows that this is the best way to pull up whole generations of clever working class kids.

That's what happened in Northern Ireland. It was men like Fr Denis Faul who liberated Catholics from the Orange State, not the IRA.

But it's probably a waste of time pointing this out to Labour diehards.

Taking on fee-paying schools is about symbolism. But if this move looks, symbolically, like an attack on a small Protestant community which runs many of these targeted schools, then Labour can hardly be surprised if that's how it is interpreted.

Of the 56 fee-paying schools in Ireland, 22 of them have a Protestant ethos. That's just under 40 per cent -- and a mere 6 per cent of the population is Protestant.

If another party trained their sights on an area of public life that was dominated by an equivalent minority -- Travellers, say, or non-nationals -- what would Labour say?

Protestant schools were traditionally accepted as a special case. Protestants could not, and did not, expect the Irish State to fully fund schools for a small and geographically dispersed group of people.

The effect was valuable social and cultural diversity at a discount. Slashing and burning will simply lead, according to the principal of Dublin's Wesley College, to the closure of a majority of Protestant secondary schools, with the remainder forced to increase fees hugely, making them more elitist than ever.

Opponents will sneer: he would say that, wouldn't he?

But consider for a moment that he's right. How does destroying a small Protestant educational sector accord with a party whose constitution, in Labour's own words, "opposes the victimisation of individuals on the basis of class, colour, creed, religion, sex, sexual orientation, race or ethnic origin"?

Protestant fee-paying schools would undoubtedly be discriminated against under the new regime: the only reason they exist as fee-paying is because they are Protestant. The two facts are not coincidental, but different aspects of the same situation.

Whatever happens, Catholics will still be able to send their children to schools with a Catholic ethos. Protestants will not have the same luxury -- including the 30 per cent of pupils, in the case of Wesley College, who are financially assisted by the school to enable them to attend.

But that's the Labour Party in a nutshell. They trumpet the joys of solidarity when it occurs in "the workplace, trade union or social club", but not when it involves people of the same faith supporting one another.

Where's the real apartheid here?

Sunday Independent

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