Friday 23 August 2019

First State curriculum on beliefs is a game-changer

Few can argue that a better understanding of other religions is not beneficial
Few can argue that a better understanding of other religions is not beneficial


Any renegotiation of boundaries between church and State is contentious. For the devout, trading a system that has served them well is tantamount to a surrender. For others, having to conform to something in which they do not believe is also unacceptable. For generations, religion, and the Catholic Church in particular, were central to life in Ireland.

The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment has set out its consultation paper for children in all our 3,000 primary schools. Faith-based schools may well regard its proposals as a step too far. To be compelled to teach about world religions, encroaching on time available for instruction in the doctrine of their ethos, will brook resistance. Traditionally, it has been the preserve of the patron - still the Catholic Church in 90pc of cases - to make such decisions. There has been much talk of ceding control and of divestment, but the status quo has been slow to shift.

Recent years have been difficult for the Church. Many felt betrayed by a series of scandals and cover-ups. Such factors have resulted in a rebalancing of relationships. Tension has grown between the secular and the religious. Arguments are well rehearsed: An alternative to bad religion is not no religion, but better religion. Secularists would clearly go another route.

The debate is likely to become more heated before there is agreement. Whatever one's stance, the first ever State curriculum on beliefs and ethics in primary schools amounts to a game-changer. Engagement and conciliation will be central to managed change. While Gandhi once pointed out that "God had no religion", attacks on minority faiths have blighted the lives of millions across the world.

So few can argue that a better understanding of other religions is not beneficial. Ideally, there would be room for both approaches, but we are a long way from such a Promised Land.

Cash transaction limits will hurt elderly people

No one can doubt the convenience and costs efficiencies brought about by advances in technology.  The transition to online banking has, for the most part, benefited customers and businesses alike. However, Bank of Ireland's decision to further restrict cash withdrawals and lodgements in its branches is an attack on its most vulnerable customers.

These include the elderly, those with low levels of digital literacy and those customers with little or no access to technology, who cannot or do not engage in online banking.

Bank of Ireland, which has more than one million personal customers, has made a unilateral decision not to allow customers to withdraw cash with a teller's help unless the transaction exceeds €700 and will not permit a cash lodgement at the counter unless it is more than €3,000. These are significant sums for the vast majority of customers, many with legitimate security concerns, especially around the use of ATMs. Bank of Ireland, which received a lifeline from taxpayers in the wake of the financial crisis, has, in the name of costs savings, turned on its loyal customer base.

But could the move ultimately cost the bank?

The deeper retreat into a world where customers have little or no personal engagement with banking staff is anathema to the principle of personal banking.

Bank of Ireland, which owes its very existence to the taxpayer, is morally obliged to meet the needs of all of its customers, who are entitled to expect adequate levels of personal engagement in their banking affairs.

Irish Independent

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