Back in January of this year (not all that long ago) Ruairi Quinn, of the Labour Party, and now Minister for Education, wrote an article in the Irish Times on the question of education. He applauded the calls of Dr. Diarmuid Martin, Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, for ‘a national forum on patronage in primary schools’, and he particularly liked the idea of ;
‘getting from where we are, to a pluralism of choice in primary education which reflects the needs of Ireland today and into the future … a journey which we need to take.’
Mr. Quinn was very pleased, too, about the statement from Bishop Leo O’Reilly, chairman of the Bishops’ Commission on Education. Bishop O’Reilly said that: ‘There is a need for pluralism of education in Ireland so that parents have a choice, as far as possible, about what kind of school their children will attend. This right to parental choice in education is recognised in most democracies and enshrined in our Constitution.’ Mr. Quinn wrote that the start of discussions between Catholic school patrons and the Department of Education about the transfer of patronage for some existing Catholic primary schools to the State ‘is a welcome development and it should be encouraged.’ (From historical reasons, the majority of primary schools is under the patronage of the Catholic Church.)
Isn’t it wonderful how appreciative and grateful Mr. Quinn and his Party can be! Now that Mr. Quinn is Minister for Education he won’t have to do anything nasty in order to lessen the involvement of the Catholic Church in education from now on. ‘The answer to Bishop O’Reilly’s welcome call for pluralism’, wrote Mr. Quinn,
‘is the orderly transfer of Catholic patronage of some primary schools to other patron bodies under supervision of the Department of Education and Science. This would reflect modern day practice and observance. It would enable Catholic parents to have Catholic schools which would deliver Catholic education for observant Catholic parents and their children. It would also facilitate other Catholic parents who consciously want their Catholic children to be educated within a multi-denominational ethos where they would learn openly about other religions and belief systems such as humanism and atheism.’
He is very concerned that ‘Catholic’ parents who want their children to learn openly about humanism and atheism should have the opportunity to allow them to do so.
Well, there it is in the ‘Government for National Recovery 2011-2016’ programme – the Fine Gael and Labour government ‘will initiate a time-limited Forum on Patronage and Pluralism in the Primary Sector to allow all stakeholders including parents to engage in open debate on change of patronage in communities where it is appropriate and necessary.’