Today another prestigious UN human rights body has criticised Ireland's failure to provide for the rights of families in its education system.
The UN Human Rights Committee today published its Concluding Observations with respect to Ireland's Fourth Periodic Examination under ICCPR. The report states: “The Committee is concerned… about the slow progress in increasing access to secular education through the establishment of non-denominational schools, divestment of the patronage of schools and the phasing out of integrated religious curricula in schools accommodating minority faith or non-faith children.”
The Educate Together model of schooling satisfies all the requirements envisaged by the UN Human Rights Committee. Educate Together has no affiliation to any religious organisation and is thus 'non-denominational'. In the operation of its schools Educate Together respects the background of all children equally and does not promote any particular religious or other beliefs. Responding to the publication of the watchdog’s report, Paul Rowe, CEO of Educate Together said:
“We welcome the UN’s call on the government to ensure that there are diverse school types throughout Ireland. All families in Ireland have a right to send their children to a school that does not discriminate against their religious or philosophical viewpoint. This right continues to be denied in almost all parts of Ireland. This a stain on the reputation of a modern democratic republic. Furthermore, it is an increasing embarrassment to the Irish State at a time when it is preparing to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 1916 proclamation and its commitment to ‘cherishing all the children of the nation equally’."
Over the past 35 years, Educate Together has been working to build a national network of schools that provide an alternative to faith based schooling. We believe that such educational provision should be available to all families within 30 minutes travel time from their homes. Despite the goodwill of many, the effort to provide this alternative has been tortuous and has faced many unnecessary obstacles.
The current government led programme of parental preference surveys and proposals for re-assignment of provision in 28 areas is a welcome start. However, one of the key obstacles is the determination of the government that this programme should be a 'no cost' programme. This is unrealistic. For instance, the work to establish a new school costs Educate Together an average of €95,000.
It is not credible for the government to have a major strategic programme of infrastructural change without appropriate funding. We call on the government to immediately allocate a minimum of €5million for this programme in the current three year budget cycle.
Educate Together was the first organisation to raise this issue with the United Nations. It did so in July 2005 to the UN Convention for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which recommended government action at the time. This recommendation has been repeated by the UN Committees of the Convention of the Rights of the Child, the International Convention on Civic and Political Rights, and also the Council of Europe Framework Convention on National Minorities. This is the second time that the Committee of the Universal Periodic Review has made such a recommendation.
Educate Together runs 74 primary schools nationwide, representing just 2% of the schools in Ireland. Educate Together promotes human rights, equality and social cohesion through its comprehensive Learn Together Ethical Education curriculum. This curriculum supports every child to explore their unique identity through lessons on Moral and Spiritual Development, Equality and Justice, Belief Systems and Ethics and the Environment. In the Belief Systems strand, children are encouraged to find out about major belief systems – including atheist, humanist and agnostic viewpoints – but none of these viewpoints is taught as religious truth.
Because it provides an element of education about religions that encompasses many denominations of many religions and philosophical viewpoints, it has been described as "multi-denominational” in the Irish context. A fundamental feature of the Educate Together model that religious instruction and faith formation are the responsibility of parents and can only take place outside the compulsory school day.