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Martin to meet Quinn at forum on faith schools

EDUCATION Minister Ruairi Quinn is set for a showdown with the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin on Tuesday over the minister's plans to end the church's patronage of schools.

Mr Quinn has set himself on a collision course with the church over his plans to wrest control of over 1,500 schools under the patronage of Archbishop Martin.

The two men will meet face-to-face for the first time since the change of government at the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism -- and while the Archbishop will be there primarily in a "listening role" the pair are likely to exchange their opposing views on the control of schools in Ireland.

Mr Quinn will convene the forum in his department on Tuesday morning to hear submissions and criticisms of his plan to secularise schools.

The minister is adamant that 1,500 schools (about 50 per cent of all primary schools) will be transferred to other patrons. For its part, the Catholic Schools Partnership -- an umbrella group for Catholic schools -- opposed Mr Quinn's radical plan, and last week published a paper, seen by many as their opening salvo in what is likely to be a long and protracted battle on school patronage.

That paper said: "Faith schools exist in almost all countries except those where they are outlawed by non-democratic regimes.

"In many nations they form a central part of the education system while in almost all democratic societies they are funded by the state."

It added: "An issue of concern in recent years has been the complete absence of new voluntary secondary schools. As a matter of justice, the Department of Education and Skills should seek to equalise funding for all schools and it should decide on the patronage of new second-level schools in accord with parental choice and the need for diversity."

The group also reiterated that parental choice in education is recognised in most democracies and enshrined in the Irish Constitution, in the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in other European jurisdictions.

In response, a spokes-woman for the minister said Tuesday's forum represents a key objective of the Programme for Government, as well as one of the priorities of the minister.

"He is pleased that he was in a position to quickly establish the forum and that its important work will get under way on Tuesday," she said.

"Key stakeholders in this process such as parents, patrons, managers and teachers will attend the opening session and engage with the forum.

"Archbishop Diarmuid Martin has also indicated his acceptance of the invitation and his presence is particularly welcome given that his own comments on divesting patronage, namely that he had 90 per cent of all Dublin schools under his patronage to cater for about 50 per cent of the population who actively wanted a Catholic education, was one of the drivers of the establishment of the forum," the spokeswoman added.

The Forum on Patronage and Pluralism is set to report by the end of October.

Sunday Independent