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Legal case over school choice is not far away


Fr John Calnan (76) was jailed for two years for abusing girl

Fr John Calnan (76) was jailed for two years for abusing girl

Fr John Calnan (76) was jailed for two years for abusing girl

SOMEBODY will soon take a test case against the Government for failing to provide a real alternative school choice for their children.

We are not meeting our obligations under various UN conventions to those parents who are entitled to have non-denominational or multi-denominational schools.

Nearly 40 years after the first multi-denominational primary school opened in Dalkey, Co Dublin, there are still fewer than 100 in the country. This contrasts with almost 3,000 schools under the patronage of the Catholic Church.

We've been rapped on the knuckles over this in a number of international reports. One, in 2008, noted that "the vast majority of Ireland's primary schools are privately run denominational schools that have adopted a religious integrated curriculum, thus depriving many parents and children who so wish to have access to secular primary education".

The next UN report will be more critical and may well prompt that legal challenge.

The Catholic Church, which runs 89pc of all primary schools, has been too tardy in responding to the rising demand for diversity of school type at primary level.

Former Education Minister Ruairi Quinn set up the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism. It was chaired by Prof John Coolahan, no trendy liberal academic but a highly respected figure, and it made a series of sensible suggestions.

The most significant was handing over some Catholic schools where parents wished.

Too many Church sources were negative towards the report's recommendations and progress has been far too slow, even in Dublin where Archbishop Diarmuid Martin first raised the possibility of reducing the number of schools under his patronage to half of what it is today.

In return, he wanted the remaining 50pc to be strong, faith-sustaining, Catholic schools. The former Christian Brothers school in Dublin's Basin Lane is so far the only one divested - elsewhere there is strong resistance.

Ruairi Quinn talked yesterday of the three types of Catholics in Ireland - the committed, the cultural and the compulsory. The latter are those who reluctantly baptise their children in order to get them into a local overcrowded school.

That doesn't serve the future of Catholic education as well. How do schools cater for those of different or no faith while remaining denominational?

It was addressed in yesterday's report. The document is useful but, disappointingly, there are no worked-out examples of best practice as had been expected. Still, it's another cautious step forward.

John Walshe is a former adviser to Minister Ruairi Quinn

Irish Independent