Wednesday 21 February 2018

'Significant discrimination on religious grounds' in schools, Dail told

Former junior minister for Health Roisin Shortall
Former junior minister for Health Roisin Shortall
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

THERE is “significant discrimination on religious grounds” within the country’s schools, the Dáil has been told.

As TDs debate new equality laws that ensure schools cannot discriminate against teachers who are gay, Social Democrat Roisin Shortall said an “extraordinary situation where a great many parents feel they have no choice but to have their newborn babies baptised” to get into a local schools exists”.

She said it was “indefensible given the stage of our Republic and the age of our democracy”.

There was widespread welcome for the passing of laws that will end what Minister of State Aodhan O Riordan described as the “chill factor” for LGBT teachers in religious-run schools.

The Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN) said afterwards that the changes to the law will allow LGBT people “to be themselves, get married and have a family without a threat to their job if they work in a religious run institution”.

GLEN’s Sandra Irwin-Gorwan said: “The Bill has wider implications for our schools and in particular LGBT young people; it provides a critical springboard for the cultural change necessary in our school…”

However, during the debate Ms Shortall said the Government needed to go even further in order to provide wider access to school for children of all religions and none.

“There is a clear demand for equality in education in this country.  In any modern democracy that must be provided for. 

“It is simply not acceptable that a child could be refused a place in a local school purely on the basis of religion,” Ms Shortall said.

The Dublin TD sought to repeal a section of the Equal Status Act which currently allows schools to favour certain religions when deciding its enrolment policy.

Earlier this week, the Irish Independent revealed that the Labour Party is planning its own amendments to the law to allow for more multi-denominational schools if they are re-elected to government.

Ms Shortall said: “Our education system should reflect and respect the diversity of Irish society and the citizens it is supposed to serve.  Government has a responsibility to ensure that all children can access State-funded school places in their locality. 

“It is simply unacceptable that parents would be required to have their children baptised for the sole purpose of getting their child into a local school.”

She said the Government should set out a clear transition plan from having more 90pc of State-fund schools controlled by the Catholic Church.

“So while Irish society is moving on and indeed the Catholic Church is moving on and has a much more enlightened view on denominational education, and while many people in this House are moving on and are demanding urgent reform, unfortunately the Government is stuck back a few decades ago and is not prepared to commit to introducing the kinds of reforms so badly needed,” she said.

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