Schools and the patronage system

 

Sir, – Seán Ó Díomasaigh’s call for the State to “set a date” for the abolition of the patronage system of schools is welcome but the difficulty achieving it should not be underestimated (“School patronage system has had its day”, Opinion & Analysis, August 3rd).

Even if a parental choice model is “lazy”, as Mr Ó Díomasaigh suggests, Article 42 of the Constitution embraces it zealously. Article 42.1 states that the “primary and natural educator of the child is the Family”. Article 42.2 says, “Parents shall be free to provide this education in their homes or in private schools”, while Article 42.3.1 prohibits the State from obliging parents to send their children to State-run schools, “in violation of their conscience and lawful preference”.

Furthermore, Article 42.4 commits the State to “supplement and give reasonable aid to private and corporate educational initiative” and to have due regard for “the rights of parents, especially in the matter of religious and moral formation”.

Even a superficial reading shows that the Constitution endorses a choice-based model and the courts have consistently held that the private patronage system is constitutionally required. Before any date for abolition could be discussed, a dramatic redrafting of Article 42 would have to be passed by referendum. However desirable it may be, that would be no easy task given the competing interests at stake. – Yours, etc,

BEN MITCHELL,

School of Law,

Trinity College Dublin,

Dublin 2.

Sir, – I will soon be forced by circumstance to send my children to a Catholic primary school. However, despite this and despite my own atheism, I believe that the focus on the process of divestment of the schools from Catholic Church is misplaced. Such a process is bound to be fraught with practical difficulties that will probably result in a chaotic transitional period with an uncertain outcome. Also it is a focus on managerial and administrative issues, whereas I believe that in matters of education, primary consideration should always be given to the environment of the learners and teachers.

I think that a more sensible approach is available and it is within the power of the Catholic hierarchy (and indeed all other patrons) to implement it immediately. Most non-Catholic parents have little objection to the overall quality of teaching and education that is on offer in Catholic schools.

However, the use of core school hours for faith formation and insistence on preferential admission policies for baptised children are big issues for many parents.

If the Catholic Church were immediately and publicly to rule out such practices in all of its schools it would go a long way towards alleviating the concerns of many parents. Under those circumstances the process of divestment could continue in a less fraught and confrontational atmosphere.

On the other hand, if the church clings on to its traditional role in the school system, it will undoubtedly face a painful removal from its current position of dominance. One might hope that Diarmuid Martin and his colleagues are farsighted enough to see this. – Yours, etc,

JAMES CRUICKSHANK,

Headford,

Co Galway.

Sir, – It is a fundamental human right to be educated without being indoctrinated with or converted to any religion. The State, through its ratification of the European Convention on Human Rights and other UN conventions, has agreed to respect the religious and philosophical convictions of all parents within the Irish education system.

State funding of schools based on a particular majority in any given area results in segregation, discrimination and a denial of basic human rights. The provision of local schools for people of all religions and non-religions is financially and legally untenable. In contrast, running state schools on a secular basis vindicates the rights of all parents to freedom of conscience, religion and beliefs.

Opting out of religious instruction, education and formation is in reality not possible. Young, impressionable children, whose parents have “opted out”, are frequently expected to “sit in” during religious instruction but not listen. Furthermore religious instruction, practices, prayers and iconography populate the school day and so parents cannot exempt their children from these pervasive, influential and integrated elements. In addition, the considerable time afforded to sacrament preparation deprives children of the right to an effective education, arguably disadvantaging them compared to children who are not subjected to such religious preparation. The State does not recognise that this kind of religious integration violates the conscience of non-religious parents and children.

Despite Article 42.3.1 of the Constitution (“The State shall not oblige parents in violation of their conscience and lawful preference to send their children to schools established by the State, or to any particular type of school designated by the State”) parents are obliged to send children to schools in violation of their conscience and lawful preference because there is nowhere else to send their children to school.

Due to the Catholic Church’s discriminatory “Catholic first” school admissions policies, non-religious children or children of non-Catholic religions are denied their right to equality, forcing many to baptise their children into a faith that they do not believe in simply to gain access to their fundamental right to education.

Running state schools on a secular basis vindicates the rights of all parents to freedom of conscience, religion and beliefs. – Yours, etc,

Dr SABINA BRENNAN,

Dublin 2.