School divestment process is a fiasco

Sir, – Long after the publication of the report of the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism in the Primary Sector in 2012, the comic fiasco of the Government's school divestment process – now called "reconfiguration" – is the gift that keeps on giving ("State to pay Catholic Church rent for schools that become multidenominational", News, March 11th).

The Department of Education is now saying that it will make “independent facilitators” available to work at local level in a bid to identify potential schools for reconfiguration as part of a pilot scheme to “inform the process in other areas of the country”. In plain English, they are saying that they still haven’t figured out how to do this.

This saga has now gone on for 10 years. Every news story on school patronage is like Groundhog Day, always beginning with promise and ending in disappointment. Departmental announcements and ministerial statements on the matter are cloyingly deferential towards the churches and lack confidence, assertiveness and resolve.

This latest development adds the insult of financial penalties to the injury of a decade’s inaction. The State has apparently now entered into a 40-year commitment to pay the Catholic Church rent for the privilege of operating schools that have been built at public expense in the first place. The bishops clearly see school reconfiguration as a revenue-raising scheme rather than an opportunity to vindicate families’ human and constitutional rights.


Perhaps the most notable aspect of this news, however, is the blatant lack of transparency and consultation. The “parental choice” narrative has vanished. Instead, a process that was initially framed around parental empowerment has morphed into a cloak-and-dagger exercise in rent and backroom deals.

We don’t have to do things this way. Education Equality believes that religious instruction and worship should simply be offered on an optional basis after school hours to those who want it, rather than being imposed through the State curriculum on those who don’t. This can be done in all publicly funded schools through legislation.

In a democracy, there should be no need for a Government to put itself in the humiliating position of seeking the blessing of unelected bishops before making decisions about public services.

Our approach makes obvious sense – and above all, it’s free. – Yours, etc,


Communications Officer,

Education Equality,


Co Dublin.

Sir, – Why would the State have to pay rent to, in the main, the Catholic Church for schools that were built with parishioner and State funds? The majority of these schools were built at a time when churches and parishes were vibrant, interdependent entities. Sadly those days appear to be long gone.

The Carmelite order, after almost 50 years in Knocklyon, handed back the care of the parish to the Dublin diocese on January 30th and withdrew four priests. The diocese has been unable thus far to appoint a single priest to continue the work so well done over the years.

If the churches no longer have the personnel to provide the basic sacramental needs of many of their parishioners, then it is time for them to relinquish their involvement in education and focus on their primary and sacred role. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 16.