State to consider Muslim school-dress code
SCHOOL dress codes in an increasingly culturally diverse Ireland will be the subject of a national consultation process in the autumn.
Education Minister Batt O'Keeffe yesterday said he had asked Junior Minister Conor Lenihan, who has responsibility for integration, to consider the matter in the context of work on the development of an Intercultural Education Strategy.
The issue has come to the fore after a Muslim family from Gorey, Co Wexford sought permission for their daughter to wear a hijab -- a headscarf worn by Muslim women -- to school.
Gorey Community School principal Nicholas Sweetman sought guidelines from the Department of Education last September on the wearing of the hijab but the department refused to issue advice.
Mr Sweetman allowed Shekina Egan (13) to wear the hijab, but called on the State to give guidance and so avoid a situation where one school had a policy allowing a hijab, while it was not permitted in another.
Shekina is the eldest daughter of Gorey native Liam Egan, who lived in the Yemen and Saudi Arabia and converted to Islam a number of years ago. Mr Egan returned to his hometown last year with his family which also includes wife Beverly and children Shakura (12), Shakiira (8) and Shadia (4).
The clothing issue has also exercised the local GAA club, Naomh Enna, which decided to allow the girls to wear hijabs underneath their protective helmets when playing camogie.
The girls are allowed to wear tracksuit bottoms instead of the more usual short skirts.
Beverly Egan said it was Shekina's choice to wear a hijab. She said: "Leaving it to individual school boards of management was not a safe way to go".
Mr O'Keeffe said he did not regard questions over the Muslim veil as "a serious issue" in Ireland.
While individual school authorities were responsible for the drawing up rules, including school uniform requirements, sensitive issues could arise given students' different cultural and religious backgrounds.
He said the department had responded to queries from schools in relation to students wearing the hijab on the basis that while a school was entitled to uphold its own ethos, the Education Act required school boards to have regard to the principles of a democratic society and be be mindful equal status legislation.
National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals (NAPD) director Clive Byrne said that individual principals should not be left to make crucial decisions about the wearing of the hijab as this was a decision for school boards and trustees.
He said: "Wearing a veil is unlikely to be an issue in most schools but there will come a time when schools will be forced to deal with situations when parents demand that their daughters face be fully covered.
"Will it be found to be discriminatory under Equal Status legislation if school authorities insist that a full veil can't be worn?
"Cultural values and norms work both ways and the differing perspectives have to be acknowledged because the reality is that many Irish women see the wearing of the veil as a subjugation of women."