Budget cuts and Protestant schools

 

Madam, – The Right Rev John Neill is correct in criticising the “unbelievable lack of understanding” regarding the cutting of ancillary payments of €2.8 million made to Protestant schools (Page 1, April 25th).

Minister for Education Batt O’Keeffe, has shown that he fails to truly grasp the nature of Protestant education in Ireland by stating: “I can see no justification for treating the Protestant fee-charging schools in a special way” regarding provision of these payments.

Mr O’Keeffe should take heed of the statement by the then Fianna Fáil minister for education, Donogh O’Malley, in the Dáil on November 30th 1966: “The reasons are as follows: a) the cost of education in Protestant schools is higher because of the nature of the organisation which must obtain in the case of these schools; b) because of the dearth of suitable day schools, a very high proportion of Protestant pupils – two out of every five – can only receive post-primary education by attending boarding schools. The Protestant schools are, therefore, a special problem and, I feel, require special assistance.” – Yours, etc,

JOHN KENNEDY,

Knocknashee,

Goatstown, Dublin 14.

Madam, – Your Editorial on Budget cuts and Protestant schools (April 25th) misses an extremely large elephant in the room. Logically, Protestant schools should merit special treatment only if they are attended exclusively by Protestants, and even then, only by those whose parents are regular practitioners of their faith.

It would be interesting to conduct an analysis of the schools’ customers on that basis, although I suspect it is unlikely to be forthcoming.

By any objective measure most of these schools are islands of privilege and tradition. They are defended ably by powerful and articulate vested interests in church and school, yet the arguments which they use are often those of another age.

In 1926, the Protestant population of the Irish Free State was no more than 7 per cent of the total, yet Protestants still accounted for 40 per cent of the lawyers, more than 20 per cent of doctors and well over 50 per cent of the bankers. Over a quarter of large farms were still in Protestant hands in 1926. The origin of Protestant educational preference thus lies in the Irish Free State’s desire not to frighten this prosperous middle class into abandoning the country, and taking its considerable capital with it.

The creation of a diversified society for its own sake, I suspect, was not the prime objective, no matter what was said in public.

The landscape is now very different. Eddie Holt in your newspaper (November 18th, 2000) pointed out the phenomenon of middle-class Catholics sending their children to Protestant schools, especially in Dublin; and Roy Foster in his Luck and the Irish (2007) rather provocatively explains this by describing “How Catholics became protestants” (with a small “p”) in the period from the 1970s onward. It is plausible that Protestant schools are seen by non-Protestants primarily as attractive on class-based grounds, not necessarily religious ones.

There may be valid arguments for supporting fee-paying schools from public funds; but special financial support to such schools on denominational grounds perhaps needs to be re-examined in the light of religious profession and commitment in today’s Ireland. – Yours, etc,

IAN d’ALTON,

Rathasker Heights,

Naas,

Co Kildare.