Second survey on children’s ethnicity after ‘White Irish’ error

Optional document will be downloadable from department website, education.ie

In the Census, conducted by the Central Statistics Office, there are four main headings for ethnic or cultural background. Photograph: The Irish Times

In the Census, conducted by the Central Statistics Office, there are four main headings for ethnic or cultural background. Photograph: The Irish Times

 

Parents are getting a second chance to have their children’s ethnicity recorded in the controversial Primary Online Database (Pod).

The move follows an admission by the Department of Education that it erred in only having one category of “Irish” on the original questionnaire, namely “White Irish”.

The department said a supplementary form would be available for downloading by parents within the next week from its website education.ie, covering those questions for Pod relating to ethnicity and religion.

Parents have to give their consent to having information on these issues recorded, and completing the new form is optional.

The department said schools, where necessary, would be given added time to collect these additional forms, although the March deadline for the inputting of general Pod data remained in place.

The error had been brought to the department’s attention by Brendan Hennessy, a father of two adopted children from Ethiopia.

In a letter to the department last Friday, he said he believed it was “a genuine error, but it’s a terrible mistake”.

He wrote: “Over 500,000 primary school children and their parents are receiving a form from the department which erroneously suggests that the only category of Irish is ‘white’.”

Cultural background

The department acknowledged its choice of categories “may fall short of what could be expected in today’s multi-racial Ireland”.

In the Census, conducted by the Central Statistics Office, there are four main headings for ethnic or cultural background: “White”, “Black or Black Irish”, “Asian or Asian Irish” and “other, including mixed background”.

In contrast, the department questionnaire offered one “Irish” category which was “White Irish”. It did, however, offer “Black African” or “Any other Black background”.

The department said it would now change the categories in the database to include such identifiers as “Black Irish African” or “Asian Irish background”.

The department is paying primary schools more than €800,000 to gather the information from parents at a rate of €1.50 per completed form.

The Immigrant Council of Ireland said the episode highlighted the need for further training to minimise the risk of discrimination in the delivery of education, health and other basic services.

Mr Hennessy, a policy worker with the Society of St Vincent de Paul in Co Cork said he welcomed the department’s response and credited it with coming up with a solution “very quickly”.

He stressed that he supported Pod as a mechanism for gathering important educational data, and encouraged parents to complete the survey so the information properly reflected modern Irish society.

He also suggested the department might share the information at local level “on how the form is used” to build trust in the system and the policymaking surrounding it.