UN asks how State will protect non-Christian children

Human rights body questions Minister for Justice and officials for second day

Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald before the committee this morning.

Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald before the committee this morning.

Tue, Jul 15, 2014, 12:08

Ireland has been asked by the United Nations to explain how it will protect non-Christian children, their parents and teachers in public schools.

The UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva, which is examining Ireland’s compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), told the Irish government delegation it was concerned there were no plans to open non-denominational schools, despite the fact most primary schools are State-funded.

Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald is leading the Irish delegation and today faces a second day of scrutiny from the 18-member committee.

Yuval Shany, Ireland rapporteur on the committee, said it was encouraging the Government acknowledged the need to reform the public school system.

“We remain concerned, however, about the pace of change,” he said. “The number of non-denominational school is still minuscule, and it is our understanding that most of the new schools created are multi-denominational and not non-denominational.

“Furthermore, we understand that are no plans to create non-denominational schools by way of transfer of control in areas which have been deemed, following the recommendations of the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism in the Primary Sector, areas where there is no sufficient demand for non-denominational education.”

He asked Ireland to explain “what would be the fate of children of parents” who are of no religion and are “not offered non-denominational education”.

“Is it true that even under the new draft Bill [on school admissions] children of such families may be discriminated against in admission to denominational schools if they do not fit with its ethos?”

Mr Shany said he would like to see a copy of a draft Bill and said it was welcome some teachers, such as LGBT teachers, would be protected from discrimination in the legislation.

“Please explain how it protects the rights of non-Christian teachers and atheists to gain employment in denominational schools with a religious ethos.”

Responding to the issues raised Layla de Cogan Chin of the Department of Justice, said there was no obstacle to the establishment of non-denominational schools if there is sufficient demand. She said no child had to remain in class for religious instruction.

The committee heard yesterday on the issue from Atheist Ireland.