Educate Together welcomes the publication of the UN Human Rights Council’s UPR recommendations. Although the Irish Government has not adopted all the recommendations, acknowledgement of the need to accelerate the establishment of multi-denominational schools is a positive step.
Progress is being made by the State through the opening of new multi-denominational (Educate Together) schools in areas of growing population. However in areas with established schools, little advance has been made in the provision of multi-denominational choice. It is hoped that the formal report of the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism will provide the mechanism for the State and the partners in education to make substantial headway in addressing this with the urgency it requires.
The Irish government has not accepted the UPR recommendation that religious discrimination be eliminated in schools, stating ‘Religious groups are free to establish their own schools to cater for members of their particular faith. This religious freedom is a core element in our system at primary and secondary level’.
Educate Together fully supports parents’ right to choose schools with religious patronage for their children. However as Educate Together has reported to UN Committees since 2005, it is still the case that 98% of all primary schools in the State are schools owned and controlled by religious organisations. In almost all areas of the country, families have no choice but to send their children to a religious school. This is against the right of conscience of a significant and increasing minority of the population. In addition, religion is a key enrolment criterion for access to these schools. As these schools constitute the overwhelming majority of provision, those of minority belief are automatically ‘last in the queue’ or obliged to hide their true convictions in order to gain access.
This lack of diversity in school type will continue to be a human rights issue in Ireland until every family has the choice of a multi-denominational school.