Tuesday 20 March 2018

Church an easy target on education issue


THIS TIME last year the main political parties were in 'general election' mode, and each of them were vying to gain enough seats to form the next government. In the end, Fine Gael and Labour won, and the remainder were left languishing in opposition.

One of the main battle cries of Eamon Gilmore and the Labour party was that it was going to be 'Frankfurt's way or Labour's way'. Mr Gilmore said the choice facing the electorate was to have the budget decided in Frankfurt (the headquarters of the ECB) or by the Irish Government. In the end, it turned out that it was Frankfurt's way. Having lost that one, it seems that there needed to be a new battle waged, and easier oppositions had to be chosen. One of those seems to be faith-run schools.

Last week a battle cry was heard once again, this time from Aodhan O Riordain, the Labour TD for Dublin North Central. He said 'religious ethos has no place in the educational system of a modern republic.' Mr O Riordain is of course entitled to his view, but I believe there are many who disagree with him on that one. Likewise the Education Minister, an avowed atheist, is entitled to his opinion, but that opinion shouldn't be imposed on the rest of us. Thankfully, totalitarianism hasn't taken over just yet.

Last year as we know, the Vatican embassy was closed, and from the mumblings in the media, this didn't sit easy with Fine Gael, even though the Taoiseach and Fine Gael Ministers allowed it to pass in Cabinet. It seems to me that Fine Gael's passivity on this, is because Labour has lost out on the economic issues and therefore is given concessions on other fronts.

The church is seen as an easy target and has few defenders, partly because so many of its leaders seem to have lost the will to resist, especially due to the negative public image that the Catholic Church has at present. Perhaps it is a case that the Education Minister is making full use of public opinion on this, and the unwillingness of Fine Gael to stand up to them on it is because of some deal the two parties have made? Or perhaps I have that completely wrong.

In any case, this week, right across Ireland, we are celebrating Catholic Schools Week. It's a time set aside every year to celebrate not only the religious ethos of the schools, but also of the massive contribution ordinary people make by volunteering to serve on Boards of Management, fundraising to help breach the gap in finances that under-funding and cuts have created, getting involved in parents councils, and the myriad of other ways they help to make sure our children get the best education possible. We're celebrating the fact that people care about our future, and at the core of that future is today's children.

As this year progresses, there will be more moves, akin to Aodhan O Riordain's, to further the elimination of religious ethos from our educational system. Parents, and perhaps grandparents, need to be alert to what may be coming down the line. Parents and future parents need to ask themselves whether schools in Ireland should retain their present ethos and values.

Some detractors bemoan the fact that preparation for First Holy Communion and Confirmation is done solely in school and should be done outside of school hours. The reality is that preparation for the Sacraments is a partnership between, School, Parish and Parents, and doesn't in fact take up as much time as some would have us believe. Even if it did, surely that time would be seen as well spent when we consider how the children learn so much about community and morality and goodness, things which we still hopefully recognise as being important for life?

Cardinal Brady launched Catholic Schools Week by saying that the Catholic Church 'is committed to providing Catholic Schools to cater for the needs of parents, who wish to exercise their constitutional right to the provision of faith education'. I, for one, agree with him.