The UN Human Rights Committee has told Ireland to stop breaching the human rights of atheists and minority faiths in the education system, reflecting concerns raised by Atheist Ireland at the questioning session in Geneva. The Committee concluded:
The Human Rights Committee is concerned about the slow progress in increasing access to secular education through the establishment of non-denominational schools, divestment of the patronage of schools and the phasing out of integrated religious curricula in schools accommodating minority faith or non-faith children.
Ireland should introduce legislation to prohibit discrimination in access to schools on the grounds of religion, belief or other status, and ensure that there are diverse school types and curriculum options available throughout the State party to meet the needs of minority faith or non-faith children.
Here are the questions that the Committee asked Ireland about religious discrimination in schools, in the session in Geneva that led to the above recommendation.
Yuval Shany of the UN Human Rights Committee
Finally, the final question that I have is issue number 26, which deals with the question of non-denominational schools. Again I thank the Delegation for the information that it provided our Committee.
The information provided is encouraging at some level, in the sense that it acknowledges the need to reform the current system, but again we remain concerned about the pace of the changes that are being introduced.
The number of nondenominational schools in Ireland is still minuscule, and it is our understanding that most of the new schools that have been opened have been multi-denominational and not non-denominational.
It is also our understanding that there are no current plans to create non-denominational schools by way of transfer of control in those areas where it has been deemed, following the recommendations of the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism in the Primary sector, that there is no sufficient demand for such education.
Could you please explain to the the Committee how the notion of insufficient demand would not justify the establishment of non-denominational primary schools?
And what would be the fate of parents and children in those areas, in the no-demand areas, what would be their fate in terms of access to non-denominational education?
This also goes to non-surveyed parents living in rural areas where there is also a likelihood of limited numbers of parents and children who would demand, in accordance with these standards, non-denominational education.
Is it true that even under the new Draft general Scheme Bill, children of non-Christian families or atheist families may be discriminated against in admission to denominational schools if they do not fit with its ethos, provided a preference to the school’s denomination children is stated explicitly in the admissions policy of that school?
And going forward, how is the State Party planning to deal with the possibility and the demand for non-denominational education in the future?
Is it considering a move away from the integrated curriculum provided by Rule 68 of the Rules for National Schools?
Is it considering a significant rise in the number of schools transferred to public hands?
Follow-up Questions by Yuval Shany
My follow-up question goes to the issue of denominational education, and I note the statement on improvements that are planned in the transparency of school admission policies. My two follow up questions in this regard are:
How does the Delegation explain the compatibility with the Covenant of a state of affairs that allows private schools, which have a near monopoly in Ireland on a vital public service, to openly discriminate in admission policies between children on the basis of their parents’ religious convictions?
I would appreciate, whether orally or in writing, the Delegation’s theory on this point, on this legal point. And whether the State believes or not that it is required to ensure a neutral studying environment in those schools, in denominational schools, outside the confines of religious instruction classes that can be opted out from?