Last Monday the UN Human Rights Committee asked Ireland, “with regard to denominational schools, does the State believe it is required to ensure a neutral teaching environment outside of the religious instruction classes”. It also asked if the State will remove Rule 68, which enforces a religious integrated curriculum. And the Chair of the UN Committee said that many of the human rights breaches in Ireland were connected to the institutionalised belief system that predominated in the State and that occasionally sought to dominate the State.
Ireland ratified the UN Covenant on Civil & Political rights in 1989. Every five years it has to appear before the UN to answer questions and explain what it is doing to protect the human rights guaranteed under this Covenant. In a previous examination in 2008 the UN had raised concern about the rights of secular parents and the religious integrated curriculum in Irish schools. Despite the concern of the UN, nothing changed on the ground for secular parents and their children in the Irish education system and they continue to suffer an abuse of their human rights.
Both the Irish Human Rights Commission and the Forum on Patronage & Pluralism recommended that Rule 68, which sanctions the religious integrated curriculum, should be removed. The Religious integrated curriculum in Irish schools breaches the right to freedom of conscience of minorities who have no option but to attend the only school in a particular area. In the main these are schools under the patronage of the Catholic Church.
In their response to this question from the UN the government relied on the right, in the Irish Constitution and the Education Act 1998, for parents to opt their children out of religious instruction classes. The government did not respond to the specific question from the UN on whether they will remove Rule 68, and whether they believe that there is a right to a neutral education outside of religious instruction classes.
The government is trying to fudge the issue, because they are well aware that the religious integrated curriculum in Irish schools breaches the human rights of secular parents and their children and religious minorities. It has become clear that this government does not intent to protect the human rights of minorities and will continue to breach their human rights. How can any school claim that it is inclusive while at the same time discriminating in access on religious grounds and operating a religious integrated curriculum.
In the recent report, on the Report from the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism, the Dept of education stated that:
“Ireland has a good record in the arena of promoting and respecting human rights. It is important that we continue to live up to the high standards set in international conventions. Ireland will continue to be the subject of international criticism if it does not move to address the concerns raised by the Monitoring Committees of the international human rights treaties to which it is a party. Ireland is also obliged to protect the constitutional rights of all its citizens and to ensure that public policy evolves and develops to promote the protection of these rights.”
The proposed new legislation (School admissions Bill) will not protect the Human Rights of minorities in Irish schools. Religious discrimination in access to education will not be removed and there is no mechanism to enable students to opt out of a religious integrated curriculum.
The recent Report from the Dept of Education on the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism now speaks of amending Rule 68, not removing it which was the Recommendation of the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism and the Irish Human Rights Commission. The questions from the UN Human Rights Committee show that they are not taken in by the assurances of this government that they are protecting the human rights of minorities in the education system.
The response of this government to the UN Human Rights Committee shows clearly that this government like previous governments are unwilling to protect the human rights of secular parents and religious minorities in the Irish education system and they intend to defer to the “institutionalised belief system” that pervades the Irish education system.
We have an education system in this Republic that does not respect the right to freedom of conscience of ALL parents and their children in the education system and it is a system that undermines human rights. We also have another government that is going to do nothing about it.