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The following are some of the UN recommendations to the Irish State regarding Human Rights obligations in Education

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European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance, 2013

101. In its third report ECRI urged the Irish authorities to promote the establishment of multidenominational or non-denominational schools and adopt the necessary legislation to that end. The authorities should also ensure that the current opt–out system in denominational school in implemented in a manner which does not make pupils feel singled out.

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UN Human Rights Committee under ICCPR, 2014 International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights
Freedom of religion
It is also concerned about the slow progress in increasing access to secular education through the establishment of non-denominational schools, divestment of the patronage of schools and the phasing out of integrated religious curricula in schools accommodating minority faith or non-faith children.

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It expresses further concern that under section 37 (1) of the Employment Equality Acts, religious-owned institutions, including in the fields of education and health, can discriminate against employees or prospective employees to protect the religious ethos of the institution, (arts. 2, 18, 25 and 27).

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It should also introduce legislation to prohibit discrimination in access to schools on the grounds of religion, belief or other status, and ensure that there are diverse school types and curriculum options available throughout the State party to meet the needs of minority faith or non-faith children. It should further amend section 37 (1) of the Employment Equality Act in a way that bars all form of discrimination in employment in the fields of education and health.

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UN Committee on Economics, Social and Cultural Rights, 2015. Concluding Observations – E/C.12/IRL/CO/3

The Committee recommends that the State party:

(a) Take all necessary measures to bring all relevant laws, including the Equal Status Acts 2001 and the Education (Admission to Schools) Bill 2015 in line with the international human rights standards and to increase the number of non-denominational schools at the primary and post-primary education levels;

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(b) Review admissions policies of all schools with a view to removing all discriminator criteria for enrolment and establish a regulatory mechanism to monitor school policies, including admissions policies; and

(c) Revoke the austerity measures which affect disproportionately disadvantaged children.

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UN Committee on the Rights of the Child 2016

63. The Committee welcomes the establishment of the Forum on Pluralism and Patronage in the Private Sector to attempt to address the need for diversity in the types of schools available to children in the State party.

It remains concerned, however, at the very small number of non-denominational schools. The Committee is also concerned about:

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(a) Schools continuing to practise discriminatory admissions policies on the basis of the child’s religion and/or whether his or her parents(s) are former students of the school;

(b) Incomplete structures in the education sector for the handling of complaints;

(c) The pressure that the Leaving Certificate examination places of children;

(d) Insufficient physical activities in school that can be enjoyed by all students.

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64. The Committee recommends that the State party:

(a) Expeditiously undertake concrete measures to significantly increase the availability of non-denominational or multi-denominational schools and to amend the existing legislative framework to eliminate discrimination in school admissions, including the Equal Status Act;

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(b) Establish an effective complaints mechanism for students in schools;

(c) Consider reforming the Leaving Certificate examination with a view to reduction the stress caused to children;

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UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, 2016 Freedom of thought, conscience and religion

35. The Committee is concerned that children are not ensured the right to effectively opt out of religious classes and access appropriate alternatives to such classes.

36. The Committee recommends that the State party ensure accessible options for children to opt out of religious classes and access appropriate alternatives to such classes, in accordance with the needs of the children of minority faith or non-faith backgrounds

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In 2006 the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child adopted the following concluding observation.

“60. The Committee reiterates the concern raised by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD/C/IRL/CO/2) that non-denominational or multidenominational schools represent less than 1 per cent of the total number of primary education facilities.

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61. The Committee encourages the State party to take fully into consideration the recommendations made by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD/C/IRL/CO/2, para. 18) which encourages the promotion of the establishment of non-denominational or multi-denominational schools and to amend the existing legislative framework to eliminate discrimination in school admissions.”

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In March 2011 the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination adopted the following concluding observation;

“26. The Committee recalls its previous concluding observations (CERD/C/IRL/CO/2) and notes with concern that the education system in the State party is still largely denominational and is mainly dominated by the Catholic Church...

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The Committee further notes that non-denominatioanl or multi-denominational schools represent only a small percentage of the total and, regrets that, according to reports, there are not enough alternative schools, and students of the Catholic faith are favoured for enrolment into Catholic schools against students of other faiths in the case of shortage of places.

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The Committee further expresses its regret that the provisions of the Equal Status Act give the power to schools to refuse to admit students to denominational schools on grounds of religion if it is deemed necessary to protect the ethos of the school (articles 2,5(d)(vii) and 5(e)(v)

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Recognising the ‘intersectionality’ between racial and religious discrimination, the Committee reiterates its previous concluding observations (CERD/C/IRL/CO/2) and recommends that the State party accelerates its efforts to establish alternative non-denominational or multi-denominational schools and to amend the existing legislation that inhibits students from enrolling into a school because of their faith or belief. The Committee further recommends to the State party to encourage diversity and tolerance of other faiths and beliefs in the education system by monitoring incidents of discrimination on the basis of belief.”

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7.2 in 2008 the UN Human Rights Committee stated that:-

“22. The Committee notes with concern that the vast majority of Ireland’s primary schools are privately run denominational schools that have adopted a religious integrated curriculum thus depriving many parents and children who so wish to have access to secular primary education. (arts. 2, 18, 24, 26).”

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The State party should increase its efforts to ensure that non-denominational primary education is widely available in all regions of the State party, in view of the increasingly diverse and multi-ethnic composition of the population of the State party.” (CCPR/C/IRL/CO/3, 22 July 2008)

(Article 2 Freedom from Discrimination, Article 18 Freedom of Conscience, Article 24 The Right of the Child, Article 26 Equality before the Law.)

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6.1 In 2008 the UN Human Rights Committee stated that:-

“22. The Committee notes with concern that the vast majority of Ireland’s primary schools are privately run denominational schools that have adopted a religious integrated curriculum thus depriving many parents and children who so wish to have access to secular primary education. (arts. 2, 18, 24, 26).”

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UN Committee on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination, 2005

“18. The Committee, noting that almost all primary schools are run by Catholic groups and that non-denominational or multi-denominational schools represent less than 1% of the total number of primary education facilities, is concerned that existing laws and practice would favour Catholic pupils in the admission to Catholic schools in the case of shortage of places, particularly in the light of the limited alternatives available. (article 5(d)(vii) and 5(e)(v))

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The Committee, recognising the “intersectionality” of racial and religious discrimination, encourages the State party to promote the establishment of non denominational or multi denominational schools and to amend the existing legislative framework so that no discrimination may take place as far as the admission of pupils (of all religions) in schools is concerned.”

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