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Monday 16 December 2019

Irish mother's struggle to get her non-baptised son into state-funded school makes headlines in the US

Nikki Murphy has received nine rejection letters from local schools for son Reuben (R) Credit: Education Equality
Nikki Murphy has received nine rejection letters from local schools for son Reuben (R) Credit: Education Equality

David Kearns

Religious discrimination in Irish schools was front page news today as one mother’s struggle to get her son an education in a state-funded primary school was featured by the New York Times.

The international edition of the newspaper, which is one of the most read dailies in the world, ran a front-page story about Reuben, a five-year-old Irish boy who has been rejected by nine local schools in south Dublin because he is not baptised.

Reuben’s frustrated mother Nikki Murphy (36) spoke about the story earlier today with RTÉ’s Ray D’Arcy, and said while she appreciated the coverage “it means nothing if I can’t get [my son] into school”.

“It’s a bittersweet day... I’ve gotten a lot of phone calls and emails but hasn’t affected anything – I still don’t have a school place for Reuben.

“For as great as all this publicity is it doesn’t change the fact that I’m struggling to find a place for him.”

Ms Murphy defer Reuben’s schooling until 2016 after she received nine rejection letters from local schools last year, rejections she says where because he is not baptised.

Almost all state-funded primary schools in Ireland fall under the jurisdiction of the Catholic Church, and, under Irish law, the Church is allowed to consider its “religious ethos” when deciding admissions.

As a practical matter, this often leads to parents baptising their children simply to secure a place at a nearby local school.

Speaking on the Ray D’Arcy Show, Ms Murphy said she had received on Thursday the first school rejection letter for 2016, and said she was not confident that the 15 other applications she sent out would come back any differently.

“I honestly don’t blame anyone for getting their child baptised just to get a school place,” Ms Murphy continued.

“We’re a non-religious family, we don’t have Reuben, or his little brother, baptised so for that reason he is at the bottom of the enrolment category in each of our local schools.

“It’s very stressful because he knows that his friends went off to school last year and he didn’t.

Reuben (R) and and his brother Roscoe (L) CreditL Education Equality
Reuben (R) and and his brother Roscoe (L) CreditL Education Equality

“[Reuben] has even started to pretend that he’s going to school… [because] he knows he’s being left behind.

“My son is barely five, he doesn’t care about religious ethos, he cares about paw patrol.”

Ms Murphy went on to dismiss claims that incidents such as Reuben’s were not commonplace, saying that Education Equality, a group which campaigns for the end of religious discrimination in State-funded school, was constantly being contacted by concerned parents.

“They say it’s anecdotal, that it only affects about 20 pc of schools but these are real people, real families have to deal with this.

“Everyone has their own stuff going on and this is just added pressure.”

Criticising the Government for “dodging the issue”, Ms Murphy continued: “The State is suppose to provide free education to everyone… these are 100 pc state-funded schools.

“The teachers’ pay, the lightening bill, the heating bill, the maintenance, the classrooms they’re building on that Reuben wouldn’t be able to go into… these are all paid by taxes, my taxes and I’m not getting any kind of refund because they’re not letting [my son] go to school.”

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