Church grasp on education must end

Majority of republic’s schools have a catholic ethos, Mary Diskin writes

Minister for education, Batt O’Keeffe, has committed to a five-year programme to build 57 new primary schools. Of these new schools, 52 will be directly Catholic Church-controlled, three will be run by the Vocational Education Committees and only two will be completely independent of church control and under the patronage of Educate Together.

This highlights once again the stranglehold of the churches, pri- marily the Catholic Church, on education in Ireland. There are 3,200 primary schools in Ireland. Of these, the Catholic Church controls just over 3,000, the other churches control over 100 more with a mere 57 multi-denominational Educate Together schools in operation.

A majority of Irish schools have, by law, a Catholic ethos. The Catholic Church is presently having problems managing their schools. They do not have suffi- cient clergy or members of religious orders to be involved in Boards of Management or fundraising.

Therefore, some of the cleverer bishops are now talking of “disengaging” from a certain proportion of their tradi- tional schools and handing over to new forms of patronage.

But as ever, the Catholic Church is not playing straight with the public. The church wants to get rid of the job of run ning somevschools, but it still wants to maintain control of the ethos of the schools. That is why the catholic Church will not simply hand over control to Educate Together which is a democratic, non-sectarian body.

Instead the church, and its sponsors within the cabinet and Department of Education, have decided to give control of certain greenfield schools to the VECs. This is an area where the VECs have no expertise, no history, and no publicly-stated desire to involve themselves.

The church believes it can do in this decade in primary Education what it has done since the 1970s in second level education -maintain control at arm’s length. In the 1970s, the church gained a dominant position in the deliberately-misnamed ‘community colleges’.

Now the church believes it can get the VECs to do its bidding. It is the position of the Workers’ Party, and left progressives generally, that the continuation of church-controlled education leads to ignorance, fear and divi- sion in society. If we cannot educate our children together, then how can we live together.