Teenage Traveller asks Court to uphold challenge to school’s admission policy

Family’s lawyer says if John Stokes wins he could be awarded compensation

Mary Stokes, pictured leaving the Four Courts after the opening day of a Supreme Court action taken by her on behalf of her son, John Stokes. Pic: Collins

Mary Stokes, pictured leaving the Four Courts after the opening day of a Supreme Court action taken by her on behalf of her son, John Stokes. Pic: Collins

 

A teenage Traveller has asked the Supreme Court to uphold a challenge to a secondary school’s admission policy of giving priority to sons of past pupils.

If John Stokes, now 16 and attending another school, wins in the Supreme Court, he could be awarded compensation over the refusal by the Christian Brothers High School in Clonmel to admit him, and get a review of the school’s admissions policy, the family’s lawyer said.

The Clonmel school’s decision to refuse John a place in 2010 resulted in a number of legal challenges, but his claims were ultimately dismissed by the Circuit and High courts.

Ms Stokes, a mother of seven, now wants the five-judge Supreme Court to set aside the High Court decision.

Cormac Ó Dúlacháin SC, for the Stokes, yesterday argued that compensation, while limited to €6,350 under equality legislation, is one of the reliefs the Supreme Court could grant at this stage, plus an order that the admissions policy be reviewed for future cases.


‘Parental’ places
After John was refused a place in 2010, his mother lodged a complaint under the Equal Status Act over a policy of the school to give priority to those whose fathers were past pupils. Those “parental” places were allocated after brothers of pupils were first given priority, with most remaining places dealt with by way of lottery. John’s name was in the lottery but he was not picked. It was claimed the “parental rule” policy contravened equality legislation because members of the Traveller community were statistically less likely to have a father who attended the school.

His mother appealed the initial refusal, without success, directly to the school board. Another appeal was lodged with an independent committee appointed by the Department of Education and this too was rejected. She then brought a discrimination complaint to an Equality Tribunal which found in John’s favour and awarded him a place at the end of 2010.

The school appealed that decision to the Circuit Court which found that, while the parental rule was indirectly discriminatory against Travellers, it was objectively justified within the provisions of the equality legislation.

Ms Stokes, who was represented by the Irish Traveller Movement Law Centre, appealed to the High Court on a point of law and this was also rejected. The Equality Authority is supporting her appeal.

Having initially heard arguments over whether an appeal could, under the relevant legislation, be brought at all to the Supreme Court, the five judges ruled they would proceed with the main hearing without deciding that issue at this point.

The hearing continues.