Saturday 24 March 2018

Traveller loses Supreme Court appeal over school's preference for past pupils' children

Sam Griffin and Charlotte Ni Luing

THE Supreme Court has dismissed an appeal made by the family of a traveller boy in a secondary school enrolment case.

The case, Mary Stokes v Christian Brother’s High School in Clonmel, related back to 2010 when a member of the travelling community was refused admission to the school having failed to satisfy the school’s “parent rule”.

The boy, John Stokes, was also unsuccessful in a lottery of the remaining places. His family said he had suffered indirect discrimination (under the Equal Status Act 2000-2008)

John's mother, in a case represented by the Irish Traveller Movement Law Centre (December 2010), lodged a complaint with the Equality Tribunal which found in John’s favour and awarded him a place in the school.

However this decision was overturned by the Circuit Court on 25 July 2011, which found that the policy of giving priority to sons of past pupils was indirectly discriminatory against Travellers - but was objectively justified in the circumstances.

A subsequent appeal was lodged in the High Court on a point of law and judgement was made against Mrs Stokes in February 2012.

Mary Stokes lodged an appeal in the Supreme Court on May 9. The court heard legal argument over three days.

But today the court found the Supreme Court did not have jurisdiction to hear the appeal.

Mrs Stokes had argued that the school’s admissions policy that gives priority to the sons of past pupils disproportionately affects members of the Traveller community as they are statistically less likely to have a father who attended secondary school.

The issue of the “parent rule” is currently being addressed by legislation being drafted by the Minster for Education Jan O’Sullivan.

Reacting to the outcome, a spokesperson for the Irish Traveller movement said she was "disappointed" and "dismayed" by the ruling.

She said it had been a very difficult process for the Stokes family.

However she added she was hopeful the new legislation being drawn up by the Education Minister would tackle the issue of the "parent rule" in schools.

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