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Deconstructing The Arguments Against Change

Joseph Greene, Parent and Educate Together Campaigner

As people all over Ireland continue to lobby for equal access to schools and equal respect for all children within the classroom, Joseph Greene, an Educate Together parent-campaigner, has identified a number of arguments that are posited repeatedly. Here he refutes them and proves indisputably that this situation is not, and has never been, acceptable. 

Argument 1: Over-subscription of schools is the problem

This argument suggests that the lack of places in schools is the real problem, not the selection based on religion.

  1. The law enables discrimination against children on the basis of religion. This is unethical regardless of whether the schools make use of that law or not. And in many cases, they do make use of it.
  2. The over-subscription problem is vastly inflated by the fact that most families apply to numerous schools, because they have no certainty of knowing where they will be accepted. The actual level of over-subscription (lack of places) is unknown and probably unknowable because there is neither a centralised registration system, nor Freedom of Information access to the schools’ enrolment data. Using religion as a means of coping with this is unethical.
  3. In many cases both within and outside Dublin, parents have no choice but to send their children to faith-based schools despite being of a different ethos. Though they retain the right to opt-out of religious instruction (30 minutes per day), the ethos cannot be separated from the rest of the day. The integrated curriculum is an unavoidable fact. Obliging parents to send their children to faith-based schools other than their own faith is a violation of Bunreacht na hÉireann (Article 42 (1) and (3.1)) and basic human rights.

The over-subscription argument is a red herring designed to distract from the uncomfortable fact that constitutional and human rights are being violated.


Argument 2: Demand for alternatives to religious-run education only happens in Dublin (and sometimes Cork)

This does not change the fact that de jure discrimination is wrong. The argument is a straw man intended to be divisive and is irrelevant to the issue. Parental preference surveys conducted by the DES in 2012 and 2013 also show concrete evidence of demand in many areas outside the main urban areas.


Argument 3: Religious-run schools are diverse and accepting of all

  1. Efforts at tolerance are appreciated. Mere tolerance however does not place the other at an equal status. The fact that school policies exist that prefer one ethos (religious world outlook) over another is proof that some schools do not treat all children equally. 
  2. Children placed in a religious school that is different from their beliefs cannot avoid the religion of the school. This places the school in opposition to the parents, with children caught in the middle. Obliging parents to send their children to faith-based schools other than their own faith is a violation of Bunreacht na hÉireann (Article 42 (1) and (3.1)) and basic human rights.


Argument 4: Catholic children sometimes don’t get into local Catholic schools

This argument is posed in such a way as to appear as evidence that this is not a 'religion problem'. This is the inverse of the 'it only happens in Dublin' (ie, 'it happens in Dublin to Catholics too') and so is another straw man. It is an extension of the over-subscription problem and does not challenge the fact that de jure discrimination is wrong.


Argument 5: It makes sense for Irish language schools to do it, therefore, it makes sense for faith schools to do it

  1. Of 3,137 primary schools, there are 3,040 faith-based primary schools (97%), 249 all-Irish language primary schools (8%). (There are 97 multi-denominational schools, 3%.) Comparing the policies of 8% of schools with one that comprises 97% of the total population of schools is a red herring.
  2. Faith and language are vastly different things. Teaching in a minority language in a minority of schools is rarely a violation of conscience or human rights; de jure discrimination, de facto discrimination and forcing religious beliefs on children in the majority of schools often is.

The comparison between the policies of Irish language schools and faith-based schools is spurious.


Argument 6: The ‘breaching of the ramparts’ argument

For example: ‘you could end up with 90% non-Jewish children in the only Jewish school in Ireland’. 

  1. This is essentially the same argument as the Gaelscoil example, only in this case we're comparing two different religious based schools. Catholic: 2829 (90%), Jewish: 1 (.03%). This is a defence of the vast majority (Catholic schools), using the Jewish school as a red herring to spread uncertainty and doubt.
  2. We have not heard from the minority religious schools on this particular point. Do they fear the breaching of the ramparts?
  3. A faith-based school imposes certain faith-based requirements and ethos on its students. It could be assumed that most families not of that faith would not be interested in sending their child to a school of that ethos. However, as long as these schools are fully state-supported, if parents are willing to go along with the ethos and faith-based requirements, they should be allowed to send their children there.
  4. In the case of the majority of schools, the Catholic schools (90%), where parents often do NOT have a choice BUT to send their children, there are not enough non-Catholics to 'breach the ramparts' and challenge the ethos of the school. Religious discrimination is not necessary to protect the ethos of these schools and should not be allowed, for this reason and for the reasons outlined in 3.


Argument 6: The church has constitutional rights too

The state pays the teachers through taxes. The state pays for construction and maintenance of the buildings through taxes. The parents fill in the gap with 'voluntary' contributions and fundraising. The church owns the land. Is this enough to give them the right to say which parents and taxpayers can avail of the education system in 97% of the country's schools?


Joseph is currently campaigning for an Educate Together national school in Goatstown/Stillorgan in Dublin.  


What is an Educate Together National School?

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Address: Educate Together, Equity House, 16/17 Upper Ormond Quay, Dublin 7, Ireland - Charity Number: CHY 11816