Labour calls for forum on school patronage

THE LABOUR leader said the Archbishop of Dublin was far ahead of the Government on the patronage and management of schools

THE LABOUR leader said the Archbishop of Dublin was far ahead of the Government on the patronage and management of schools. Eamon Gilmore raised the speech made by Dr Diarmuid Martin on Tuesday, when he said the Catholic near-monopoly was “not tenable’’ and did not reflect current realities.

Mr Gilmore said Dr Martin was able to outline the detail of ownership of schools and school property, something which Minister for Education Batt O’Keeffe had been unable to provide in a reply to a Dáil question from Labour’s education spokesman Ruairí Quinn.

Urging the Government to agree to Dr Martin’s suggestion of a national forum on education management and patronage, Mr Gilmore said it would allow for discussions to take place in a reasoned way, and over a period of time, between the State, the churches, the various educational interests, and the bodies that were currently patrons of schools or wished to be patrons.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen said he had not had the opportunity to study what Dr Martin had to say, although he recalled him speaking on the matter before when dealing with fast-developing areas in Dublin, for example.

He added: “He had much to say about that, which would be broadly welcomed. I had the opportunity to meet with Church of Ireland archbishops this week on church-State dialogue, something with which I am anxious to continue. An opportunity to meet with members of the Catholic hierarchy could include some discussion on this matter as well.’’

Mr Cowen said he welcomed Dr Martin’s “general approach and indication of his views’’ on those matters. “Dialogue can best be conducted on the basis of mutual respect,’’ Mr Cowen added. “The question of the right to denominational education remains an important part of the Catholic Church’s view, and the view of the churches in general.’’ This, he added, had been reiterated by the minority churches and the Church of Ireland archbishops.

Mr Cowen said he would study what Dr Martin had to say and obtain the views of the Minister concerned. He would see what way he could proceed with the matter in terms of church-State dialogue. Pressed further by Mr Gilmore, the Taoiseach said that as chief patron of Catholic schools in the Dublin archdiocese, Dr Martin’s openness to consider different Governance structures was refreshing.

When Mr Quinn suggested that the Taoiseach was kicking to touch on the issue, Mr Cowen said he did not make up policy on the basis of not having read what a person had to say. “I am sorry if we do not make it up on the hoof overnight,’’ Mr Cowen added.