More on Protestant Schools
The Irish Times reports that Martin Mansergh (left), the Minister of State for the Office of Public Works has suggested that a resolution can be found to the problem of funding Protestant schools as part of next year’s budget. We have discussed the debacle here. Minister Mansergh did not promise that the ancillary grant would be restored to all Protestant schools. Rather he outlined that the government wished to tailor its funding arrangements to those schools most in need; it ”was willing to consider any proposals that would more effectively focus funding to meet the objectives of improving access and sustaining Protestant schools, particularly those in rural areas.” The Minister said:
“I was a member of the board of a Protestant secondary school in Dublin city for almost 20 years. Shortly before departing last year, I inquired about the number of block grant pupils [those who benefit from special funding from the State] among the school population of 630 and was told it was in single figures… However, in other areas… the proportion may be 30 per cent or 40 per cent and, in one or two instances, even higher. The case can be made that the cutbacks announced last October bear more heavily on such schools than on those with no substantial disadvantaged intake.”
This represents a slight thaw in the government’s most recent position, which was that there would be no climb-down on the matter of ancillary funding. It would seem to suggest a sub-class of Protestant schools, so that most Protestant fee-paying schools would be classed, as the Minister desires, as fee-paying schools first, deserving only parity with other fee-paying schools. Only those schools which could demonstrate a particular need, through the poverty of their pupils and/or the remoteness of their location would be entitled to extra funding. These schools would be classed according to the relationship between their ability to raise funds and their role in providing education according to a particular ethos.
Since we last posted, the decision to reduce funding to Protestant schools has been criticised by the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, who described it as a threat to Irish pluralism. Tom Molloy has an interesting article in the Irish Independent, picking up on this theme of the relationship between religious institutions and a kind of cultural capital. The Minister has also been heavily criticised for refusing to release the advice which he received from the Attorney General on the constitutionality of the measure. Amusingly, the Minister claims that he has been instructed by the Attorney General that precedent is against the public release of the Attorney General’s advice. The Church of Ireland Bishop of Cork, Dr. Paul Colton (above left) has directly challenged the deployment of the Constitution in this debate. The Bishop argued that the constitution had been played as a kind of trump card, when the issue had never been raised in the 40 year history of the Protestant schools arrangement. He further asked:
“Are we seriously to believe that the founding fathers and framers of our Constitution envisaged a situation where this Republic would become a hostile place for the children of the Protestant minority?”