Jan O’Sullivan enforces religious discrimination in schools where she herself is patron

The Minister of Education, Jan O’Sullivan has called for places to be set aside in National Schools with a religious ethos, for unbaptised children. The Minister is quoted as stating that:-

“I recognise the right of denominational schools to protect their ethos,” she said in an interview with The Irish Times.”

This quote has come from a Minister who enforces religious discrimination in the nine schools where she herself is the Patron, and which were set up as non-denominational schools. It seems that our Minister for Education only recognises rights when it suits her.

The are nine schools in Ireland under the Patronage of the Minister for Education. Atheist Ireland has written to the Minister for Education about the schools under her patronage but to date have not got a satisfactory answer. See here, here and here.

The Dept of Education website states that:-

“Although originally established as non-denominational schools, in practice these schools have evolved to provide primary education within a Christian ethos”

Our Constitution forbids discrimination between religions but as Patron to these nine schools the Minister continues to discriminate on religious grounds. According to the Minister if schools have a historic tradition of religious discrimination then they can continue to discriminate, even if the Minister herself the Patron.

In other words, our very few directly State-run schools discriminate on religious grounds.

In a recent response to a Dail question on these Model schools by Ruth Coppinger TD, the Minister replied as follows:-

“The Minister as owner of the model schools became the Patron of the model schools in accordance with the terms of the Act. The schools operate as Catholic or Protestant schools in accordance with the historic traditions that go back to their foundation and the community to be served at the time they were established.”

But according to the website of the Dept of Education, these Model schools were set up as non-denominational schools and evolved into Christian schools. Their historic tradition is non-denominational, not Catholic or Protestant. The Department of Education’s website mentions that these schools evolved into Christian schools. It does not say that they evolved into Catholic (Roman Catholic) or Protestant (Church of Ireland) schools.

We are aware that one of these schools discriminates against Christians if they do not belong to the Church of Ireland. They are obviously not the right kind of Christian for the Patron, the Minister for Education.

The Education Act 1998 (Section 15) obliges all Boards of Management to uphold the ethos of the Patron. In upholding the ethos of the Minister for Education, Athy Model School says:

“Athy Model School is a primary school under the patronage of the Department of Education, with a Church of Ireland ethos. We endeavour to enable each child to acquire a set of moral values based on the ethos of the school.”

In upholding the ethos of Jan O’Sullivan, Athy Model School discriminates in access on religous grounds. The enrolment policy of Athy Model School states that:-

“Priority for places is therefore given in the following order:

a) Church of Ireland parishioners of Athy Union of Parishes.

b) Church of Ireland parishioners of adjoining parishes customarily served by the school, where such parishes have no Church of Ireland school of their own.

c) Children, one of whose parents is a member of the Church of Ireland.

d) Children who are members of Protestant Reformed or Orthodox Churches and are living within the parishes listed at (a) and (b) above.

e) Children of parents living within the areas specified in sections (a) and (b) above and who wish their children to be educated within the ethos of the Church of Ireland.

Where oversubscription occurs in any category above , siblings within the category will be given priority. Following allocation of places to siblings, surplus places in the category will be allocated using a lottery system. The lottery system agreed is the ‘names in a hat’ system; with an independent witness. Those children in this category that are not successful in achieving a place will have their names placed on a waiting list in the order in which such names were drawn. Applicants will be informed of their place on the waiting list as it applies in their particular category.”

We are constantly being told that Irish schools are inclusive, welcoming and support pluralism. Pluralism and diversity Irish style means that, we have schools under the patronage of religious bodies that discriminate on religious grounds. We also have non-denominational schools under the patronage of the Minister for Education, that discriminate on religious grounds.

Not only does the Minister directly enforce discrimination against atheist and secular families, but she also directly enforces discrimination against religious families as well.

If this government was committed to protecting the Constitutional and Human Rights of atheist and secular families, Jan O’Sullivan would immediately ban religious discrimination in all schools where she is the Patron.

We are just waiting for the Minister to now say that she has legal advice on the matter and that she can’t publish it.  Some things never change.

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