Pupils in divested schools ‘will not be prevented’ from celebrating Christmas

Catholic schools in north Dublin are resisting plan to divest their patronage

Christmas crib. The parents’ association of St Oliver Plunkett’s School in Malahide has warned that the loss of the school’s religious ethos could lead to the cancellation of nativity plays and carol services. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Christmas crib. The parents’ association of St Oliver Plunkett’s School in Malahide has warned that the loss of the school’s religious ethos could lead to the cancellation of nativity plays and carol services. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

The Department of Education has rejected claims that pupils in Catholic schools where there is a change in patronage will be prevented from celebrating religious events such as Christmas.

It follows a row in north Dublin where the department has requested that one Catholic school out of eight in the Malahide-Portmarnock-Kinsealy area of the county divest its patronage.

The move is part of a wider plan to increase access to multidenominational schools for parents on the basis that 90 per cent of primary schools remain under Catholic patronage.

However, a number of Catholic schools in the north Dublin area are resisting any attempt to divest their patronage.

The parents’ association of St Oliver Plunkett’s School in Malahide has warned that the loss of the school’s religious ethos could lead to the cancellation of nativity plays and carol services.

Other schools in the area have reportedly also warned that events such as St Patrick’s Day and Shrove Tuesday may no longer be celebrated.

A spokesman for the department, however, said “significant festivals or events which may be associated with religion can play a part in the life of a multidenominational school”.

Religious festivals

“Nondenominational schools are not required to ask pupils not to mark or celebrate or learn about religious festivals or events or times of the year and occasions that would historically have a religious connotation or connection,” the department said, in a statement.

“There is clear guidance on the teaching of religion in primary schools. Multidenominational schools deliver the national primary curriculum in the same way as all schools and are subject to the same rules and regulations, regardless of patron.”

Educate Together, which describes itself as an equality-based school model, said many of its schools host “inclusive celebrations” such as annual festivals of lights and winter fairs that incorporate elements of Christmas.

A total of eight Catholic schools in the north Dublin area are being invited to vote on whether to change their patronage this month.

They include St Helen’s junior and senior national schools in Portmarnock; Scoil an Duinnínigh, a Gaelscoil near Swords; and St Marnock’s National School in Portmarnock.

Malahide-Portmarnock-Kinsealy is one of 16 areas nationwide where a lack of access to multidenominational has been identified.

Surveys have been conducted among preschool parents in these areas to measure demand for education under multidenominational patron bodies.

Resistance

However, any change in patronage must must “reflect the wishes of parents and the school community”, according to department guidelines.

Resistance to the plans among schools in north Dublin is set to raise questions over how many schools, in practice, will be prepared to divest their patronage.

In the case of St Oliver Plunkett’s School, parents have been warned of the dangers of a narrow vote in favour of divestment.

“To avoid another Brexit-type disaster, we implore you to attend the meeting. This is your opportunity to raise your questions/concerns,” parents were told, in messages seen by The Irish Times .

A separate letter from the school’s board of management states that staff and the board were “100 per cent” in favour of remaining and warned that a change in patronage would have “huge implications”.