The First Minister of Northern Ireland, Peter Robinson, has called for the ending of state-support for religious schools.  Listen to Vatican Radio report and read statement from Bishop McKeown.

Podcast

[display_podcast]  This podcast made available from Vatican Radio

Church statement

Statement by Bishop McKeown in response to recent comments on diversity of education provision in Northern Ireland
16 October 2010

“The ongoing debate concerning diversity of education provision in Northern Ireland requires recognition of the fundamental right of parents in the choice of faith-based education for their child,” according to Bishop Donal McKeown, Chair of the Northern Ireland Commission for Catholic Education.

Bishop McKeown continued, “This key principle, which recognises the right of parents, is guaranteed by the European Convention for Human Rights. It is also the hallmark of a stable and pluralist society, such as exists in Ireland and Britain, and which finds expression in the provision of State funded faith-based schools. It is worth pointing out that parents who choose faith-based schools for their children, pay taxes toward the provision of that education. The Catholic Church has also contributed substantial funding and resources for the provision of Catholic schools over generations, and this has ultimately saved the taxpayer money.

“Long experience across this island, North and South, shows that Catholic schools are committed to welcoming pupils of all backgrounds and to building a cohesive society in the service of the common good.”

Notes

  • Bishop Donal McKeown is Auxiliary Bishop of Down and Connor and Chair of the Northern Ireland Commission for Catholic Education.
  • NICCE represents the Trustees of all primary and secondary Catholic schools in Northern Ireland.

Speech by Peter Robinson, First Minister of NI

source – www.peterrobinson.org

Speaking in Castlereagh on 15th October 2010 at the Installation Dinner of the new Mayor

Extract

…In the area of education it has been said that considerable savings could be made with the creation of a Single Education Authority. I still hope that agreement can be reached in moving away from the five education and library boards to a single authority. This is not a difference of principle but one of detail and I am hopeful that it can be resolved in the next period of time. However, in the meantime I believe that a simple and speedy solution to achieve savings would be to create a single education and library board under existing legislation and leave the issue of additional powers to another day.

Moreover, I feel I have to point out that the real savings in terms of education will not be gained by simply creating a single educational administrative body but by creating a single educational system.

For me this is not just an economic but a moral question. We cannot hope to move beyond our present community divisions while our young people are educated separately.

Not many of you will believe that my first contribution as a speaker at a DUP conference was on the issue of integrated education – and I spoke in favour.

If one were to suggest that Protestants and Catholics would be educated at separate Universities it would be manifestly absurd; yet we continue to tolerate the idea that at primary and secondary level our children are educated separately.

I believe that future generations will scarcely believe that such division and separation was common for so long. The reality is that our education system is a benign form of apartheid, which is fundamentally damaging to our society.

Who among us would think it acceptable that a State or Nation would educate its young people by the criteria of race with white schools or black schools? Yet we are prepared to operate a system which separates our children almost entirely on the basis of their religion.

As a society and administration we are not mere onlookers of this; we are participants and continue to fund schools on this basis. And then we are surprised that we continue to have a divided society.

The limited number of Integrated schools in Northern Ireland do offer a choice but more often than not they join in the competition for funds against the other two main education sectors and in truth will never create the critical mass needed to make a real difference.

I entirely accept that such fundamental change will not happen overnight but that is no excuse for further delay in making a start. I know that we will face difficulties in dislodging the vested interests that are so strong in this sector, but I am absolutely convinced that we must.

I don’t in any way object to churches providing and funding schools for those who choose to use them. What I do object to is the State providing and funding church schools.

The transition must begin and must be carefully planned and programmed. It may take ten years or longer to address this problem, which dates back many decades, but the real crime would be to accept the status quo for the sake of a quiet life. The benefits of such a system are not merely financial but could play a transformative role in changing society in Northern Ireland.

Consideration should be given to tasking a body or commission to bring forward recommendations for a staged process of integration and produce proposals to deal with some of the knotty issues such as religious education, school assembly devotions and the curriculum. Future generations will not thank us if we fail to address this issue….