Children must not be discriminated against on basis of religion

17 September 2019

Labour Party Education spokesperson, Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, has called on the Minister to ensure children in publicly funded schools are not discriminated against on the basis of religion, and reiterated his call for the Government to convene a Citizen’s Assembly on the relationship between Church and State. 

Senator Ó Ríordáin said:

“The report that a child is being discriminated against for not attending a religious activity is unacceptable and the Minister should intervene to stop this practise.

“Treating a child differently because they have opted out of religious instruction, and choir practise in this case, is not acceptable in a publicly funded school. The use of rewards like homework passes means that the child is treated differently. The reality is that the child would only get the homework pass if they participated in the communion choir practise. No child should be singled out because they do not practise religion.

“The Minister should intervene to stop this practise, and issue clear guidelines to schools if necessary. The hands off approach from the Department is not good enough. It should not be left to individual schools to come up with practical arrangements.

“This latest example shows once again that it is time for a national conversation about how we achieve a modern, secular and equality-based education system for the Ireland of today, and what we hope to achieve for tomorrow. 

“Ireland is different now compared to when our constitution was written, when the role of religion in our education system was enshrined through Articles 42 and 44. Religion should not be the overarching principle that underpins our education system, nor should it be the way by which children are segregated at a young age.

“Instead of a public education system, we have a State funded education system which farms out responsibility for the running of schools to patron bodies.

“Patrons are empowered by various articles in the constitution which have been interpreted as affirming the right of parents to have their children educated through the ethos of their choice.

“What I am asking for is the Government to reconvene a Citizens’ Assembly that would examine the ownership and control of our education system, and the influence of Articles 42 and 44 of Bunreacht na hÉireann.

“The legislative and policy changes introduced to date on how we hire teachers, allow schools enrol pupils, and how patronage is awarded and divested, are limited by our basic law. To fundamentally change our education system, the Constitution must change, and that should start with a meaningful and considered analysis, discussion and debate through a Citizens’ Assembly.

“It is time for the Government to commit to referring this issue to the Citizens’ Assembly so it can be dealt with by experts and by ordinary citizens of our State.”

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