Tuesday 8 December 2009

Pot. Kettle. Black.

The issue of the removal of some grant assistance to fee-paying Protestant schools in the south is complex, and ongoing. The issue is essentially one of equality of treatment between different denominational schools – up to now Protestant schools have been receiving a greater amount of aid per pupil than Catholic schools, and the Attorney General gave the government advice that this may be unconstitutional according to Article 44:
"Legislation providing State aid for schools shall not discriminate between schools under the management of different religious denominations, nor be such as to affect prejudicially the right of any child to attend a school receiving public money without attending religious instruction at that school."

However, some in the Protestant community (including the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin, John Neill) have claimed that the removal of the additional grants do, in fact, discriminate against Protestant schools because their needs are greater due to their more dispersed locations and the need for some pupils to board. How the issue will end up being resolved is, as yet, unclear, but such things tend to end in compromises by both sides.

Now, unfortunately, the overtly sectarian 'loyal orders' have started to try to interfere in the situation. Yesterday the Royal Black Institution said: "Many of our members and of the wider public believe this policy has sectarian undertones and discriminates against the minority population in the Republic of Ireland."

For an organisation whose whole basis is sectarian to accuse others of sectarianism is ironic.

But more importantly, this interference from a body that has little or no support in the south is driven by political malice. The Royal Black Institution is one of the family of ultra-unionist 'loyal orders', and while it may have a scattering of southern members it does not and can not speak on behalf of southern Protestants. By trying to pose as defenders of an imaginary 'beleaguered Protestant minority' in the south they are simply trying to stir up trouble.

Southern Protestants neither need nor want a politically unionist organisation to use them for its own ends. The overwhelming majority of southern Protestants are proud members of the Irish nation, and attempts by the Royal Black Institution to portray them as anything else is unwelcome. Most southern Protestants do not live in the border counties – the largest concentration, not surprisingly, is in Dublin – and the Royal Black Institution is an alien organisation to them.

On one hand anti-unionists should be pleased to see the Royal Black Institution re-connecting with the Irish body politic – but if it was being done in a constructive way, rather than with malicious intent, it would be better.


Anonymous said...

I don't think there should be ANY -ANY - publicly funded religous schools.

shane said...

The religious patrons (ministers/priests) of these schools are volunteers and unpaid. They are usually well experienced and well connected with the local community. If the Irish government was to secularize the system (as they inevitably will) they will have to train new patrons and pay them a salary, which is not going to happen in a recession. The archbishop of Dublin invited Batt O'Keeefe to a conference to discuss handing over schools, but the government has not even responded to the invitation. I think they are worried about the cost implications. I know a few priests who are church patrons and they would love for these schools to be secularized as they do not confer any benefit upon the churches, only obligations. But it isn't going to happen in a recession.

shane said...

school patrons, I should have said.