The United Nations CERD Committee has issued a formal response to the Irish government recommending that the Irish State "promote the establishment of non-denominational or multi-denominational schools." This is a significant success for Educate Together's lobbying efforts. The Committee's recommendation reads :-
“The Committee, recognising the “intersectionality” of racial and religious discrimination, encourages the State party to promote the establishment of non-denominational and multi-denominational schools and to amend the existing legislative framework so that no discrimination may take place as far as the admission of pupils (of all religions) in schools is concerned”
This recommendation vindicates the case that Educate Together has been working on for many years. After a period of detailed research, Educate Together first presented this argument to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education and Science on July 3rd, 2003 and subsequently to the Minister of Education. In January 2005, Educate Together presented a formal submission to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in the context of the first review of the Irish State’s compliance with this Convention. Educate Together is also considering applying under the Convention on the Rights of the Child and seeking a judgement via the EU Human Rights Act. Over the past 40 years, the legal situation facing those seeking an alternative to specifically denominational education has worsened. In 1965, the Rules for National Schools were amended to recognise the denominational nature of the system. In 1971, the strict separation between literary and moral education and religious instruction was removed with the introduction of the “integrated curriculum”. In 1998, the Education Act set in legal stone the obligation of the Board of Management of a school to uphold the ethos of its patron. In 2000, the Education Welfare Act obliged a parent of a child to ensure that they attended a recognised programme of education. Also in that year, the Equal Status and Employment Equality Acts provided an exemption for denominational schools to discriminate on religious grounds in order to protect their ethos. These legislative changes have copperfastened the denominational nature of the primary education system in Ireland at a time of rapid social change. Our population is now increasing and diversifying at a fast rate. Those describing themselves as having “No Religion” in the Census of 2002 are now the largest single minority after those describing themselves as “Roman Catholic”. The fact that in 98% of all cases, parents have no option but to send their children to either a Catholic or Church of Ireland school is now creating a significant legal and human rights liability for the State. By its failure to provide any alternative, the State is in contravention of its obligations under Article 42.3.1 of the Irish Constitution and a number of International Conventions and Treaties.
Article 42.3.1 States:-
“The State shall not oblige parents in violation of their conscience and lawful preference to send their children to schools established by the State, or to any particular type of school designated by the State.”
Educate Together is delighted to see that this reasoned position has been vindicated by the UN committee for the elimination of racism. We are encouraged by the Committee’s refusal to consider racial discrimination in a narrow format and to recognise the “intersectionality” between racial and religious discrimination. There is now an urgent need for the Irish State to take action to provide real support for the planned development of a national network of multi-denominational schools. It is unacceptable that the body which has been addressing this important social need has to operate on a total State grant of €39,800 per year. This grant is less than 10% of our operating costs and does not even cover our current tax bill.