State’s Lack of Support for Multi-denominational Education in Ireland an Insult to Community Volunteering Spirit

pressetCSO figures released today confirm Ireland is the fastest growing population in Europe with 70,000 people immigrating in the past year

Educate Together, the national representative body for multi-denominational schools, is currently the fastest growing sector in Irish education, creating a complementary choice in primary education and working with existing providers. This September 4 new Educate Together schools opened, from these over 77% of the children enrolled in the schools have at least one foreign born parent. The National Office is now faced with demands to open new schools in up to 30 areas across the country. The sector trusts that creating educational spaces of equality and respect for people of differing cultural and religious backgrounds is one of the most important tasks facing us as people, whether Irish, European or citizens of the world. We are responding to this challenge as best we can on a State grant of less then €42,000 per annum.

However this autumn the National Office for Educate Together, is faced with a funding crisis. The sector is currently operating their headquarters and 5 staff on a State grant of less then €42,000 per annum. The Department of Education and Science depends on thousands of volunteers to keep this sector operating. This is simply no longer sustainable. A staggering €95 million was returned to the Department of Finance from the Department of Education and Science last year while Educate Together is struggling to keep operations in place with increasing demands. It is unacceptable that these levels of available funds are not being made work hard for the benefit and integration of all children living in Ireland.

In order to remain a competitive player in the international market and maintain our economic success we must attract an international work force. The need for highly skilled workers in areas such as science and technology, IT, health services and engineering will inevitably draw immigrants into Ireland who will enhance our rapidly diversifying demographic composition. The provision of an educational system where all children have equal access and their religious background is equally respected is vital for this new and progressive labour force. Social cohesion and preparing our future generation to live together is essential. Over the past three years, Educate Together has been consistently making the case that there is an urgent need to put the provision of multi-denominational education in Ireland on a firm financial footing. Parents all over the country are seeking this form of education but can not access a school in their locale. They have a Constitutional right to an education of their choosing. This right is also echoed in numerous international treaties. In March of this year the United Nations recommended that the Irish government support and develop multi-denominational education. It is essential for the future of our society that such education is available in all areas. In almost all democratic nations, the provision of such schools is properly a function of the State.

Exceptionally in Ireland, this can only be achieved by huge levels of voluntary work and private fund-raising. It will be to the lasting historic shame of this government if it forces the Educate Together sector, which supports thousands of volunteers to set up schools on behalf of the State, to dismantle due to a lack of foresight, planning or timely decision-making by a Government whose exchequer is awash with unspent funds.