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Dublin: 8°C Thursday 19 May 2022

'Baptising my son so he could go to school was the most hypocritical thing I have done'

Parents spoke out about education equality in Ireland at a protest today.

PARENTS TOOK PART in a protest today for education equality which saw them march from St Stephen’s Green to the entrance of Leinster House.

The Gathering for Change event in Dublin was organised by voluntary organisation Education Equality, to demand equality in the education system for people of all beliefs.

The organisation said the march was held “in response to disappointing and worrying signals from the new government that equality in education is a not a priority”.

The crowd were addressed by Education Equality Chairperson April Duff, three parents affected by religious discrimination in schools, and Deputy Lord Mayor of Dublin Councillor Rebecca Moynihan.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie afterwards, Duff said that the speeches were mainly about Education Equality’s twin goals: equal access to education and equal respect during school days.

She spoke during the event about the need for children not to be discriminated against on the basis of their religion, adding:

Last Thursday, our representatives in Dáil Éireann voted to delay all progress towards equality for another year. We cannot accept that. Families cannot face another year of discriminatory admissions policies, of being ranked as ‘category 6 of 6’ in their local schools.

Father of two, Eoin O’Brien, addressed the crowd and explained the difficult choice he made in baptising his children to secure school places for them:

When the time drew closer to school-going time, we had to seriously take stock of our situation. We weren’t getting into Educate Together. We visited the local Catholic school and the local Protestant school, and both made it absolutely clear to us that only ‘category 1’ children would be getting places – children baptised in the appropriate religion.
We baptised the children, and had to go to church for several months. This was, by a very long distance, the most hypocritical and mercenary thing I have ever done. We weren’t alone in this – we would exchange shy glances with other parents who were clearly in the same position.

Another father, Paddy Monahan, spoke of his fears for his son Cormac when he reaches school-going age.

“I have already been told that Cormac has very little chance of getting into our local school without a baptismal certificate,” he said. “That’s a shocking thing to be told when your son is barely over a year old.”

Monahan had already lodged a petition bearing 20,000 signatures for the repeal of section 7(3)(c) of the Equal Status Act 2000 last November.

Education Equality gathered handprints from children in the crowd and from families all across the country in the days leading up to the Gathering for Change.

The handprints will be presented to Minister for Education Richard Bruton “as a call to vindicate the rights of all those affected by religious inequalities in the school system”, said Duff

She said that parents are “just so worried” as they might have to send their children to schools far away from home, or carry out a “pragmatic baptism if they are really stuck”.

Education Equality is calling for schools to move their religious classes to the end of the school day after core hours, so that children who don’t want to attend can leave without interrupting the rest of their school day. “That doesn’t take away anyone’s ability to receive religious instruction,” said Duff.

Among those at the event today were Teachers for Equality, a new group of teachers campaigning on this issue.

Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil Education spokesperson Thomas Byrne TD reiterated that his party is committed to reforming the schools admissions process by making it fairer and more open.

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He said that it is essential that every interest group, including parents, is brought before the Oireachtas Education Committee on the issue.

Education Minister’s response

In a statement, Minister for Education Richard Bruton said that the best and quickest way of providing diversity and choice for parents is by providing additional multidenominational schools for parents, and that he “has committed to trebling the rate of delivery of these schools by delivering a total of 400 non-denominational and multi-denominational schools by 2030″.

This will provide greater choice and diversity for parents and children.

The Minister will also publish and enact a new Admissions Bill, which will reform the process of school admissions, including banning waiting lists and admissions fees and requiring more information and consultation for parents throughout the process

It is recognised that any change to the Equal Status Act would be extremely difficult as this is a hugely complex area legally, constitutionally, and in other ways. The previous Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Skills concluded that the provisions of the constitution “poses a particular difficulty when legislating in this policy area.”

The Minister said in the Dail this week that he is “keen that progress be made in this area”.

The previous School Admissions Bill published by the previous Minister for Education contained no proposal to amend the equal status act. This means that proposals in this area have not been subject to detailed pre-legislative scrutiny.

Minister Bruton has proposed that the new Oireachtas Education Committee should now consider submissions and hold hearings involving legal experts and stakeholders in order to tease out the potential problems and propose solutions.

Patrons, students, parents, boards of management and other stakeholders will be able to attend these Oireachtas hearings.

“Any change to the law would have to strike a balanced and measured approach in relation to competing rights. It is also important that any change to the law would not give rise to any unintended consequences that would create an adverse impact on the schools of minority denominations,” said the statement.

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