This week there has been much coverage in the national press about the proposed change in Patronage of two national schools in the Portmarnock / Malahide area. It’s part of a debate that began several years ago about the lack of choice for parents between alternative types of schools. For historical reasons the catholic church has evolved to the present day with the patronage of the vast majority of national schools throughout the state, in the region of 89%. Given the growing number of people who today declare no religious faith or affiliation there is without doubt a need for schools that offer a non-religious alternative model. Our own Archbishop in Dublin Diarmuid Martin has said as much many times and declared his willingness and desire to transfer schools to other patron bodies. The problem it would appear is the satisfaction of the vast majority of parents with the status quo in the vast majority of schools and their reluctance to countenance change.
Now that Baptism is no longer a requirement for entry to catholic schools the argument of unfair discrimination has been removed. In reality catholic schools particularly in urban areas comprise children of many faiths, and nationalities – a problem only ever existed in areas where there was an inadequacy of provision of school places to cater for the school going population and this was only ever the case in a small minority of schools.
In many schools throughout the Diocese of Dublin school populations are made up of Catholic, Muslim, Hindu, Orthodox Christians etc., from a myriad of countries around the world, and what characterises them is the spirit of inclusivity and integration that they have successfully embraced. It could be argued indeed that their very Catholic ethos is the key to their successful integration of the many and varied faiths and traditions that they now comprise.
The Chief inspector’s report (2010–12) clearly indicates that the overwhelming majority of parents and pupils find their schools to be well managed and welcoming, and this report was the fruit of over 800 whole school evaluations and thousands of questionnaires to parents and pupils throughout the country. (over 46,000 to parents alone.)
There is a vehemently secularist lobby in Irish Society that would seek to exclude the church from all aspects of public life and present its influence as undesirable and unhealthy, ignoring completely the self-declaration of 73% of the population of the state as Catholic in the 2016 census. If change is to happen, and there is undoubtedly a compelling case for a greater choice of patronage models, it can only be with the agreement of the parents, an ideologically driven bulldozer approach simply won’t wash.
Fr. Philip Curran