RENUA election manifesto shows no understanding of religious discrimination

by Michael Nugent on January 6, 2016

Renua logoRENUA, one of Ireland’s new political parties, has launched its general election manifesto. It does not respect the human rights of atheist and secularists.

RENUA not only fails to prioritise education reform, but it does not even understand the problem of religious discrimination in Irish schools, never mind know how to tackle it.

RENUA’s manifesto does not even mention secularism, religious discrimination, blasphemy law reform, religious oaths for public office, or repealing the eighth amendment.

Introduction

The one-page introduction by Lucinda Creighton sets out RENUA’s six overall priorities. She does not mention secularism, or even education. Her overall priorities are (1) a flat tax rate, (2) community spirit at local level, (3) ’three-strike’ jail sentences, (4) reform in healthcare, (5) more openness in government, and (6) a Social Progress Indicator.

Executive Summary

The Executive Summary places Education at number 15 of 19 issues. It says this about Education:

RENUA Ireland’s core educational priority is that every child should have equality of opportunity. We will work towards creating an equal chance early childhood education system, strengthen the regulatory system for crèches, and open up schools to transparent competition for management positions. We will move towards a model of continuous assessment for secondary state exams, and improve access to loans and finance for third level students.

Again, apart from an ambiguous reference to equality of opportunity, there is no acknowledgement of the religious discrimination at the core of our education system, never mind any policies on how to tackle it.

Education Policy Overview

Tackling the religious discrimination at the core of our education system is not among RENUA’s six priorities for education. The section on Education gives the following six priorities: (1) Reform of early childcare, (2) Improvement of creches, (3) Standardise tests in primary schools, (4) Better pupil teacher ratios, (5) Replacing leaving cert with assessment, and (6) Better income streams for third level.

Primary Education

The section on Primary Education gives the following priorities: (1) Renewable terms for Principals, (2) Competition for management posts, (3) Continued professional development, (4) Performance management and standards, (5) Better teacher training, (6) Curricular change, (7) Structures of boards of management, (8) Access to primary education, and (9) Pupil teacher ratios in rural schools.

Only one of these priorities is relevant to the religious discrimination in schools, and that section does not even acknowledge the nature of the religious discrimination at the core of the system. Here is what it says:

1. The lack of school places in certain parts of the country where the population is growing rapidly is a cause for huge concern. RENUA Ireland believes that every child is entitled to access a place in their local area. We will undertake an in-depth analysis of the census and of demographic projections across the country to ensure that we plan our school building programme and school expansion schemes based on demand and need.

2. RENUA Ireland also recognises that there is over-provision of certain faith-based schools across the country and that there is an urgent need for more diversity in terms of school ethos.

3. RENUA Ireland supports the rights of families and communities to have access to schools with a religious ethos as well as schools without such an ethos.

4. In government, RENUA Ireland will ensure that the abandoned school divestment process is reignited. This process must respect the needs and concerns of parents, communities, the religious institutions who currently have patronage of 94% of our schools and most importantly the children themselves.

It is clear from this that RENUA does not even understand the problem of religious discrimination in Irish schools, never mind know how to tackle it.

1. Lack of school places in areas where the population is growing rapidly is indeed a problem, but it is exaggerated by parents having to apply to multiple schools because of the religious discrimination in schools with a religious ethos.

2. RENUA describes as “over-provision of certain faith-based schools across the country” the system whereby the State funds the Catholic Church to run 90% of primary schools and allows it to discriminate on the ground of religion, and allows other churches to run most of the other 10% of schools on the same basis. More diversity of school ethos will not solve this problem. It will only institutionalise further the segregation of five-year-old children based on the religious beliefs of their parents, and will lead to more segregation generally on other social grounds. The Oireachtas Education Committee has already concluded, based on a submission from Atheist Ireland, that multiple patronage and multiple ethos can lead to segregation and inequality in schools. And the Oireachtas Library and Research Service has concluded that an unintended consequence of school choice policies is that they can lead to further school segregation as schools, through a combination of admission policies and parental decisions, become differentiated according to class, religion and socio- economic status.

3. It is meaningless for RENUA to say that it “supports the rights of families and communities to have access to schools with a religious ethos as well as schools without such an ethos.” That conflates families and communities, but one of the conflicts in education policy is that better-off families can have different priorities to what is best for the community. And while there is indeed a right to a religious education, there is no right to have the State fund that education. Indeed, it would be impossible for the State to vindicate such a right, as it would mean having to build hundreds of schools in each locality for every belief system. There is, however, a right to have an education that does not indoctrinate children with either religious or atheistic beliefs. That right can best (and indeed only) be provided by a national network of secular schools that are neutral on the question of religion and atheism and that focus on the educational needs of the children.

4. The divestment process endorsed by RENUA cannot deliver a fair education system. Even with the maximum divestment envisaged by Educate Together, who are looking for 300 schools, that would leave most families in areas where there is no option other than to send their child to a Catholic school. And the Catholic Church is trying to trade off divesting some schools (ideally those they don’t have the resources to run) in exchange for a stronger Catholic ethos in the schools they retain. Given that more than half of the schools in the country are ‘standalone schools’ where there is no other school in the locality, and given that those schools will not be divested, that would mean that most secular families would actually be worse off, as their only option would be a school with an even stronger Catholic ethos.

Secondary Education

The section on Secondary Education gives the following priorities: (1) Better pay and reward, (2) Moving to self-directed learning, (3) Applied leaving certificates, (4) Management systems and structures, (5) Structures of boards of management, (6) Ombudsman input in special education, (7) Adult education and re-skilling.

Again, there is not even an acknowledgement of the problem of religious discrimination in secondary schools. There is a State course on religion at second level, which does not meet human rights standards in terms of respect for atheist world-views. And even that is often combined, for timetable purposes, with denominational religious instruction classes, with parents and students being told that the course is compulsory.

Teachers

RENUA does not even mention the religious discrimination against teachers in Primary Schools that is endorsed by the State exempting religious schools from our equality legislation.

However, under third level education, RENUA says that it:

“strongly supports academic freedom. This means that academics should be provided with the freedom to pursue their research without corporatist interests being allowed to silence them or curtail their work. RENUA Ireland commits to providing for academic freedom in contracts of employment in Ireland.”

Why does RENUA not apply the same standards to primary school teachers, and insist that they should be provided with the freedom to pursue their career without religious interests being allowed to silence them or curtail their work?

Summary

RENUA not only fails to prioritise education reform, but it does not even understand the problem of religious discrimination in Irish schools, never mind know how to tackle it.

RENUA’s manifesto does not even mention secularism, religious discrimination, blasphemy law reform, religious oaths for public office, or repealing the eighth amendment.

Be Sociable, Share!

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: