Equality in education in the spotlight at Ireland’s second examination by the UN Human Rights Council today

This afternoon the Irish Government will appear before the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. This is the second time that Ireland appears before the council to answer questions about its human rights record from fellow UN member states, under the Universal Periodic Review (UPR).  The Government, represented in Geneva by Tánaiste and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald, is expected to be asked to outline plans to address the need for equality in Irish education and the need for more equality-based schools like the ones run by Educate Together. 

Educate Together is proud to be a member of the Your Rights.Right Now coalition of NGOs, trade unions & civil society groups established by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) to coordinate the civil society response to Ireland’s UPR. 

Progress too slow

This session in Geneva comes amid concerns that previous UN recommendations are being implemented by the Irish State in far too slow a fashion. The previous administration did move to introduce a number of additional equality-based schools into the system since the last UPR session in 2011, but the pace of change to date has been very slow to date. In recent years, the lack of equality-based school places in Ireland has become a desperate situation. There is now an estimated 15,000 – 20,000 children’s names signed up to campaign lists all over Ireland for new equality-based Educate Together school places. That number grows every day.

Educate Together contends that the establishment of a national network of equality-based schools around Ireland is the solution. Schools that don’t demand proof of religion at the school gate; schools that don’t segregate children along religious lines during the school day; schools that cherish all children equally. 

Discrimination in schools

In 2011, the UPR also recommended that Ireland eliminate discrimination in schools on religious grounds. This recommendation was rejected by the government. This position must be revised – state-funded schools should never be allowed to discriminate against children on the basis of religion. Educate Together is not aware of any situation in which such discrimination is necessary in order to maintain the ethos of schools. In a system wherein 96% of the schools are religious-run, 'Catholic first’ enrolment policies force many parents to compromise their own values in order for their children to access the local school. This is an unacceptable situation in a modern democratic republic. 

Ireland will no doubt be questioned about the continuing absence of real equality in the Irish education system. It will be interesting to see how the Government responds when questioned by fellow UN member states. You can view today's hearing online (http://www.rightsnow.ie) and follow the proceedings using #UPR2016 as the hashtag on Twitter.