Monday 19 August 2019

Church delays plans to ballot parents about switching schools to multi-denominational ethos

(Stock photo)
(Stock photo)
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

The Catholic Church is delaying plans to ballot parents about switching their school to a multi-denominational ethos in a move to reduce the temperature in a controversy raging in north county Dublin.

Parents of pupils in eight Catholic schools in the Portmarnock-Malahide-Kinsealy area were due to vote over the next week, but the ballots are being postponed.

The decision was relayed to the schools today by the Education Secretariat in the office of the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Diarmuid Martin.

No new timeline has been provided for the parents’ vote and it is not known how the process will continue from here.

However, extending the deadline for the consultation will take some of the heat out of the frenzy gripping the community.

A furious row broke out in the past week after parents, staff and the boards of managements in each of the schools was asked to consider whether they would be prepared to switch ethos.

The approaches to the schools followed a survey of parents of pre-school children in the area showing a demand for greater school diversity.

It was one of 16 surveys conducted around the country as part of wider moves to reduce the dominance of the Catholic Church – which controls 90pc of primary schools - in education.

There was a hostile reaction from school communities in the north Dublin parishes with claims that a multi-denominational ethos would mean that schools would no longer celebrate events such as Christmas, St Patrick's Day and Pancake Tuesday.

Concerns were also raised about the employment conditions of teachers and other school staff under a different patron body.

Many of the assertions were wildly inaccurate and the schools were accused of scaremongering.   

Education Minister Joe McHugh entered the fray, tweeting that schools should “not be setting a bad examples” by making claims that had no basis in fact.

However, the row did expose shortcomings in the consultation process which allowed such a level of misleading information to be shared.

Fianna Fail education spokesperson Thomas Byrne blamed a “vacuum of information” from the Department of Education, its lack of involvement and the absence of a divestment plan or strategy.

He said the absence of guidelines from the Department allowed “misinformation spread like wildfire”, while, at the same time, legitimate questions were not being answered.

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