Quinn to look at equality legislation

 

Minister for Education and Skills, Ruairí Quinn has pledged that the government will look at the issue of a special provision in equality legislation which allows religiously run schools favour prospective employees on religious grounds without being found to have discriminated.

TUI president Bernie Ruane had raised the issue of Section 37(1) of the Employment Equality Act with Mr Quinn, saying that she believed it was a “draconian” piece of legislation which "clearly discriminates against some of our citizens" during her reply to his address at the TUI Annual Congress in Tralee.

Mr Quinn said the Programme for Government agreed between Fine Gael and Labour did “talk about moving in this area” and while he could not anticipate what final action the government would take in regard to the legislation, he did believe it was important to recognise that Ireland was now “more tolerant and inclusive”.

“There is an understandable concern that many people who might contemplate a civil partnership feel that perhaps they can’t do that because of the action that might be taken by patrons of some schools but I would hope that as we move to complete the republic and make it pluralist and open and inclusive that those fears can be allayed.”

However Mr Quinn rejected calls by the TUI for the state to save €100 million of taxpayers money by terminating the practice of paying the salaries of teachers in private fee paying schools and colleges and instead investing it in schools in disadvantaged areas.

Ms Ruane pointed out that private fee-paying schools had been repeatedly shown to be bottom of the table when it comes to inclusivity especially with regards to embracing students with special needs and she challenged Mr Quinn to address what she described as “educational apartheid.”

“Do you not think Minister that it is unjust that taxpayers should fund private fee paying schools to the tune of €100 million?,” she said, adding parents have to collect supermarket tokens to buy computers for public schools while the state funds “privileged schools who can afford to build swimming pools and golf courses”.

However Mr Quinn pointed out that state had historically paid teachers salaries in all schools which had all charged fees right up until the 1960s when his predecessor as Minister for Education, Donagh O’Malley proposed the abolition of fees under a voluntary discretionary scheme.

In return for participating in the Free Voluntary Scheme and abolishing fees, some 500 or so of the 720 post-primary schools in the country received capitation grants to cover their running costs but fee-paying private schools do not receive capitation grants and he had no plans to change that and stop paying their teachers’s salaries.

During his address to congress, Mr Quinn re-iterated that Ireland has to reduce its expenditure on public services and pointed out that the country was “akin to being in receivership”. He defended the Croke Park Agreement and said its core purpose was “to allow us to manage better with less”.

The government’s recovery plan provides for a net reduction in teacher numbers in 2011 and for consultation with the education partners on to how best to achieve a further reduction in teacher payroll costs from 2012 and department officials would meet with the TUI in the coming weeks to discuss how best to achieve such savings.