Saturday 25 November 2017

Tribunal rules school must enrol Traveller

John Walshe Education Editor

A secondary school has been ordered to enrol a young Traveller who was refused admission in September.

The ruling, by an equality tribunal, has major implications for schools' admissions policies generally.

The case against the Christian Brothers High School in Clonmel, Co Tipperary, was taken by Mary Stokes on behalf of her son John. She sought the assistance of the Irish Traveller Movement Independent Law Centre when she was told there was no place for her eldest son.

The family was notified that the number of applicants exceeded the places available.

The school, which is considering appealing the tribunal's ruling, had enrolled 140 pupils and turned away a number of applicants, including John Stokes. Its enrolment policy prioritised applicants on:

  • being a Roman Catholic;
  • a brother or father having attended the school;
  • and attendance at a local feeder primary school.

While meeting two out of the three criteria, John could not comply with the parent or sibling rule and, as a result, was not offered a place, said a spokesperson for the Traveller Movement.

"The facts were such that, as the eldest child in his family, he could not have a sibling in the school and also, as the first male in his family to progress to secondary school, he could not have had a parent who attended the school.

"As a Traveller, John's father was statistically much less likely than someone from the settled population to have attended second level," she said.

When John's father was of school-going age in 1981 only 10pc of Travellers went on to secondary school.

The Law Centre claimed that the criterion of having a family member, specifically a parent, who had previously attended the school disproportionately affected Travellers and that it amounted to indirect discrimination under Section 3(2)(i) and Section 7(2)(a) of the Equal Status Acts 2000-2008.

The tribunal disagreed with the school's policy and ordered that it immediately offer a place to John. It also told the school to review its admissions policy to ensure it does not indirectly discriminate against pupils on any of the grounds covered by Section 3(2) of the Equal Status Act. The nine grounds are: gender; marital status; family status; sexual orientation; religion; age; disability ground; race and membership of the Traveller community.


Representing the family at the tribunal hearing were Irish Traveller Movement Law Centre solicitor Ramona Quinn and barrister Vivian Meacham. Ms Quinn said the sibling or parent rule was a hurdle most Travellers could not surmount.

The Department of Education and Skills recommends that "all post-primary schools should have an enrolment policy that accords with education and equality legislation and that welcomes Travellers, celebrates cultural diversity, and promotes interculturalism".

The director of the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals, Clive Byrne, said schools would have to consider the implications of the ruling on admissions' policies.

Irish Independent

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