Ireland reaches double figures for international human rights bodies criticising Irish schools
This has been a very positive week for Atheist Ireland, the Evangelical Alliance of Ireland and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Ireland. We met with Nils Muiznieks, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, and we attended a Council of Europe Human Rights Conference at which Commissioner Muiznieks was speaking. At both meetings we raised the breaches of human rights in Irish schools against atheist and minority faith families.
Commissioner Muiznieks will be reporting within three months on his visit to Ireland, but before he left he made clear that he will conclude that Ireland has to end religious discrimination in all schools. He was very grateful to us for the information which we gave him about the Irish education system, and he said that he had never seen anything like it elsewhere. He described it as patron bodies holding the State to ransom.
The Commissioner’s report will bring into double figures the number of United Nations and Council of Europe human rights regulatory bodies that have told Ireland in recent years that it has to stop discriminating on the ground of religion in school access and the school curriculum. Atheist Ireland has actively contributed to all of these processes since we were founded in 2008.
Anticipating next year’s report by Commissioner Muiznieks, these will be:
- Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner 2017
- United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child 2016
- United Nations Committee on ESC Rights 2015
- United Nations Human Rights Committee 2014
- Council of Europe Commission Against Racism and Intolerance 2013
- United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination 2011
- United Nations Human Rights Committee 2008
- Council of Europe Protection of National Minorities 2006
- United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child 2006
- United Nations Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination 2005
We also highlighted with Commissioner Muiznieks the Louise O’Keeffe judgment in the European Court of Human Rights, which was established under the auspices of the Council of Europe. This ruling has implications for all of the human rights that are breached by religiously-run national schools in Ireland. During the case, the Irish State argued that it was not responsible for protecting Louise O’Keeffe’s human rights while she was in school, because the State did not run the school directly.
The European Court told the State that it was responsible, regardless of whether it runs the schools directly. The then Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore told the Dail that “The implications are profound for the patronage system of schools and for the relationship between the State and patrons of schools.” But the Irish State is now trying to interpret the judgment as narrowly as it can, restricting it to historic sexual abuse cases, and ignoring its duty to protect other human rights in Irish schools, such as freedom of religion and belief, freedom from discrimination and equality before the law.