Archbishop ahead of debate on future of education

Once again, today, the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin has taken what can only be described as a leadership role in the debate on the future of education, particularly of primary school education. He appears to be ahead of the debate in many cases, certainly ahead of many people who purport to speak on behalf of church interests in this vital area. The Archbishop has described the situation with regard to primary school education as a near monopoly of control by the Catholic church and has said that it does not reflect current realities. He has called for a debate, the kind of debate for which many Members have been calling for two years.

When Deputy Mary Hanafin was Minister for Education and Science, she declined in this House to set up a national forum to consider these questions. The subject was raised last week in the House. Has the Minister for Education and Science been persuaded to come to facilitate a debate on this crucial issue? The matter arose again in the context of the recent developments on the Ryan commission report. However, I have no difficulty in decoupling those two issues if that would make people feel more comfortable in debating the matter. The issue of the church’s control and management of primary schools throughout the State requires debate in its own right, with or without the Ryan commission report.

There have been some developments in this regard, for example, a development with regard to VEC involvement in primary schools in Dublin city. The issue arises again and again. Can we now have a full and comprehensive debate on the issue that takes note of the fact that the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin has said that the current position is a historical hangover and is, essentially, a monopoly. To his credit, he said the position is detrimental to the possibility of maintaining a true Catholic identity in Catholic schools. That is the Roman Catholic view on the issue.

When this question is debated in the Seanad, on radio programmes and elsewhere, people always say it is a question of choice. We are all in favour of the maximum amount of choice being afforded to citizens, parents and children, but resources must also be considered.

In any country or economy, scarce resources will dictate what level of choice we can provide or can vindicate for parents, whether religious, non-religious or multidenominational education.