C of I says INTO comment on schools is offensive


THE Church of Ireland has expressed concern that, recent comments by the Irish National Teachers' Organisation general secretary, Senator Joe O Toole, imply the elimination of Protestant schools.

The secretary of the church's board of education, Mr David Meredith, said Mr O'Toole's use of the word "sectarian" in relation to "an enrolment policy which would allow Church of Ireland schools to give priority to Church of Ireland children is seen as both hurtful and inflammatory".

Last week, Mr O'Toole criticised a new agreement on the management of primary schools which would allow Church of Ireland and Presbyterian schools to refuse places to children who are not of the same religion as the schools to which they have applied.

"If we are going to legislate for a system which excludes children from local schools on the basis of their religion, then it is hard to describe it in any terms other than sectarian," said the INTO general secretary.

Mr Meredith said in a statement yesterday: "If the views expressed by Senator O'Toole concerning the rights of parish schools in such matters as the appointment of teachers and the enrolment of pupils represent the official policy of the INTO, then it is quite clear that the consequence of such a policy must be the elimination of such schools and, in particular, those that cater for minority communities throughout Ireland. That is the only logical conclusion to the current campaign being pursued, by Senator O'Toole and others.

He said Church of Ireland national schools did not have an exclusive enrolment or employment policy, and for many years had "welcomed children and teachers from a wide diversity of backgrounds and would wish to continue to do so".

He added: "However, at the same time the church has a prior obligation to its own members and intends to fulfil that obligation, knowing that this meets the wishes of the overwhelming majority of our, parents. From Senator O'Toole's comments it would appear that his organisation is quite prepared to tolerate discrimination against children of the Church of Ireland by denying parents a right of access for their children to schools of their own tradition.

Mr Meredith went on: "Since the beginning of the current debate on the reform of the education system, the Church of Ireland has made it clear that it is determined to preserve and maintain the tradition and ethos of its schools while accommodating a number of reasonable developments. In order to do this it insists on the right to have regard to the denominational balance of a school both in relation to staffing and enrolment."

He said the church appreciated the efforts of the Government "to take account of these requirements", notably in Section 37 of the Employment Equality Bill. "However, it views with dismay the efforts of Senator O'Toole and others to frustrate our combined efforts and to hear them described as `sectarian' is deeply offensive."