Meath Peace Group public talks
No. 43 – “Diversity of Etho: Challenges for A “Mono-ethnic, Mono-cultural” Society?
Monday, 20th May 2002
St. Columban’s College, Dalgan Park, Navan, Co. Meath
Most Rev. Dr. Richard Clarke
(Bishop of Meath and Kildare)
Fr. Frank Kelly, P.P.
(Granard, Co. Longford)
(Chairperson, Educate Together)
Dr. Kevin Williams
(Head of Education, Mater Dei Institute)
(General Secretary, INTO)
Barbara Sweetman FitzGerald, CBE
(Former Director of the Irish Association)
Opening words: Barbara Sweetman FitzGerald
Questions and Comments
Biographical Notes on Speakers
© Meath Peace Group, June 2002
[Editor’s note: over 130 people attended this talk]
Chair: Barbara Sweetman FitzGerald:
“Thank you. I was asked if I might say a word or two about the Irish Association which I got involved with in 1987 to see how we could celebrate the Golden Jubilee in Belfast and Dublin the following year. It had been a totally voluntary organisation until then. We had a very successful Celebration of Ulster Festival in Dublin and since then we have continued meetings in Dublin and Belfast with an annual conference alternating North and South every year.
“It’s a pleasure to be here. I’ve long admired the work and all that the Meath Peace Group have been doing in Meath. It’s marvellous to see so many people here. I doubt we would have as many in Dublin at an evening meeting… Our first speaker is Dr. Richard Clarke, Church of Ireland Bishop of Meath and Kildare since 1996….
1. Most Rev. Dr. Richard Clarke, Bishop of Meath and Kildare:
“I would like to thank Julitta for the invitation to come here tonight. I am going to tackle tonight’s discussion from a minority perspective, that is as someone who – whether he likes it or not – is a patron for a reasonable number of schools which are denominational and represent a minority tradition.
What is denominational education for? “But I want to ask the question, as much of myself as of the rest of you: what today is denominational education for? And perhaps the more serious question which lies behind it: what is segregated education for? What is it meant to do?
“If we think about it carefully that question is a rather different question for many of you here tonight. The principal question, I suppose, for most people in Ireland is whether or not the Church – with a capital “C” – should have any particular place in the educational system of the State.
“The perspective I come from is rather different – that of a minority religious grouping in this country. A couple of years ago I think I would have seen this question entirely in terms of denominational rather than religious grouping, but now of course we are firmly in an area of inter-faith as well as inter-church or inter-denominational.
We have to think now of religious minorities – not merely in terms of the Reformed churches within the Christian Church; we also have to think about Muslim, Hindu and other religious cultures and of course in addition a growing non-religious culture. And this should have sharpened our focus although I am rather doubtful that it has.
Protection of an endangered species: “A generation or two ago I suppose the question as to why children of smaller religious communities in the Republic of Ireland needed to be educated separately from everybody else would have been very simply answered. To put it very crudely it would have been at its roots all about the protection of an endangered species – the survival of a particular culture, the survival of a particular tribe. But Ireland has changed, and I hope the Church of Ireland has changed a little bit, so that the question has still to be framed and answered, albeit in rather more subtle terms: what does separate education, what does segregated education for minority groupings actually achieve and is it anything worthwhile?
“Now I don’t have a total answer to that question. As far as I am concerned segregated education is probably a second best solution to an untidy situation, but a solution with which we have to live for the moment – for the moment it is probably the best that can be achieved on a national basis. But a totally secular educational system – which is the direct alternative – raises a huge number of philosophical questions for me, not all of them religious, but concerns as to whether there can ever truly be an ideology free education. And if we do ever reach this latter stage at some stage in our evolution, then I suppose questions of ethos would not arise in their present form.
“So as long as we have segregated schooling we have to ask what to expect from it.
Is there more to the identity of minority groupings than a particular body of religious teaching? If there is more to that identity, is it something which is best helped by being kept separate from the rest? In other words, if there is a plural for “ethos” – I imagine the plural for “ethos” might be “ethoi”! – are there minority “ethoi” which need protection in our country?
Faith culture: “As it happens, I don’t like the word “ethos”, and talking about religious ethos I coined a term “faith culture” instead of “ethos” because it seems to me that that is what we really mean – something which contains both the content of a particular religious understanding, a faith, but also something rather more subtle – the expression of an identifiable way of being in the world which relates to that faith. Not the content of that faith, but a way that that the community holding that faith relates to the world – a particular culture. And we are really talking about something which is a spectrum – faith and culture – a spectrum between the two.
“Now I am going to try and explain myself by describing the Church of Ireland – because I think it is the only ethos, the only faith-culture that I can really describe without being patronising – but I would ask you to make the necessary adjustments, to your own situation, to other faiths or indeed to none.
So let’s look at it from both ends. As I said at the beginning, if we were to ask some people at one end of the spectrum – “why we should have Church of Ireland schools?” – the answer would still be very clear: “to keep our children within the fold of our faith and to keep them from exposure, at an impressionable age, to any other expression of faith, mainly Roman Catholic”. That, at its crudest level, is why there will be denominational schooling, and it is why in the future it may well be necessary to protect other religious faiths, non-Christian faiths, with separate schooling.
At the other end of that spectrum there would certainly be those who see Church of Ireland schools as a “good thing” because they seem to protect a sort of benevolent humanism which they can rely on not to overdo the religious bit.
Now I have to say that taken at their extremes both of those positions are totally untenable. One is the philosophy of the ghetto, and the other is the philosophy of total relativism. Surely somewhere in between has got to be a sense of faith culture. Because if we move to that very end of the faith spectrum, and we see national schools as only for imparting one’s own particular denominational understanding of the Christian faith, then what we are really talking of is Sunday school on weekdays. And it must be questioned whether normal education could even proceed. After all we don’t have Church of Ireland maths, we don’t have Church of Ireland geography. I think at one stage, we did have “Church of Ireland history”, but then everybody else had their own version of history, but fortunately today this has become much less apparent. But to think of our schools – those of which I am the patron – as only to keep our children protected from alien influences shows an appalling lack of confidence in what the Church is meant to be and what contribution it has to make to the country at large. In the present day we cannot support denominational schooling only as a way of keeping our children as a separate caste.
“Giant Panda” syndrome: I’m sure there are people around the country who would wish that schools of different denominations – national school or secondary school – would work almost as pre-matrimonial agencies. It’s what I’ve described elsewhere as the “Giant Panda” syndrome – you know the way that pairs of Giant Pandas, like other endangered species, are kept together artificially in the hope that they will eventually breed? Well, we do the same with our young people, we sort of keep them together and hope that the genes will take over and they will marry the “right way” as it used to be traditionally called, and in this way the species will be saved.
But that has gone. It is an exaggeration, but I wonder how much of it was an exaggeration a generation ago? In the world in which we live, we have to believe we have something more to give to the country in which we live than just our own survival.
Liberal humanism: “On the other hand, if we move to the other end of the spectrum and think in terms of ethos as a particular culture alone, with no relationship whatsoever to faith values, then I have to say – and I can say it as a Dubliner – we are only talking of the liberal humanism of the Dublin chattering classes. Having grown up in Dublin I’m allowed to say that – some of the rest of you may not be allowed to say it! But I can’t believe that that is a particularly important value to purvey. And yet, as I’ve said, there is an acute danger that this is seen as the attraction of the Church of Ireland national school and the Church of Ireland secondary school for many people – that their children will get a good education without being disturbed by too much serious religion.
“We also have to be honest – and I’m speaking very much from an individual point of view as I was asked to do – and say that, from my perspective, the Church of Ireland in different parts of the country would be on different parts of the spectrum. It would have a different ethos. It is of course a generalisation, but I would suggest that in more rural areas of the Republic, the place on this faith-culture spectrum would be closer to the faith end, the protective end, the teaching of religion end. Whereas in cities and suburbs, the place on this faith-culture ethos spectrum would be at the culture-oriented end, the overt faith ingredient would be more and more submerged.
Broader vision: “I want now to generalise out and to suggest at this point in our history, the history of Ireland, any concept of separate schooling for minority religious groupings – whether we are talking about the minority Christian groupings, or whether we are talking about other faith groupings – have to encompass a broader vision than either the operation for tribal survival, or a muzzy culture that has no rooting whatsoever in a faith content. There has to be a broader vision and we have to start working through what that is.
Christian ethos: “But now I want to turn to a minority perspective on the majority religious grouping – the Roman Catholic Church. Because it seems to me that for the Roman Catholic Church there is just as great a challenge as there is for the minority churches. Just as I have had to ask the difficult question – “do Church of Ireland schools exist only to instil Church of Ireland teaching?” – so I think the Catholic schools have to ask the same question: do Roman Catholic schools exist only to instil the Roman Catholic faith to its junior members? Can this be the function of education in the 21st century? And it seems to me that the responsibility of all the Christian groupings and all the religious groupings would be to loosen that grip, and to believe that it is possible to have a Christian ethos which is not specifically of one tradition, whether Roman Catholic or another tradition. Because unless this happens, the other Christian traditions will always try and defend their own position, and so indeed will other faith groupings. Philosophically, my own Church has had no difficulty in arguing that the core beliefs of Christianity are held in common with many other Christian traditions, and the core beliefs of Christianity can and should be taught in common.
“Strangely enough, 150 years ago, Archbishop Richard Whately, Archbishop of Dublin in the middle of the 19th century, and his Roman Catholic counterpart, Archbishop Murray, argued exactly the same thing: that in fact the core beliefs of Christianity didn’t have to be taught separately between the different traditions. Needless to say both of them did not last very long and were not very popular. Poor old Whateley was more or less sent out to the outer reaches of influence and ignored by most of his clergy, and Archbishop Murray at the same time was succeeded by a very different man, Cardinal Cullen, who took a totally different approach on how things should be done, but that’s what you get for being prophetic. But yet we have to believe that the core beliefs of Christianity are things that can be shared.
“So I want to suggest that we need to see – and I’m going to finish with this – that over the coming generations all the different Christian traditions are going to have to see that we are on a journey. I think it likely that the days of segregated denominational education are numbered. Perhaps for minority groupings who come from other cultures it may be regarded as a necessity for longer. I would, for the moment, defend denominational education in many places – at this moment in our history – but I do not see it as lasting for very much longer.
Alternatives to denominational education: “What are the alternatives then? Because they need to be very carefully understood and very carefully analysed, and I think if they are going to be implemented they need to be implemented honestly.
“I want to suggest three possible routes – and I spoke about this on the radio just before Easter in relation to a particular situation in Dunboyne. We need to understand the differences between “multi-denominational”, “non-denominational” and “inter-denominational”.
Multi-denominational education: “Multi-denominational – which is what many of our community schools are – would admit anyone, but the understanding would be that religious teaching is dealt with entirely separately between different traditions. Now that is my understanding of what should be meant by the word “multi-denominational”, or indeed multi-faith – that you teach everything else but when you get to religion you then break into different groupings.
Non-denominational education: “There’s also “non-denominational” education of which we have very little really in this country. And this would be where religious teaching is strictly avoided. As I say I have problems with that because I don’t think it ever happens. In the American system, technically, religious teaching is thoroughly avoided in schools, but I don’t think it has meant that religion in any sense is kept out of schools. In many ways it comes in, and in very different guises. But non-denominational is another possibility.
Inter-denominational education: “Finally, and I would hope this is where the move will go, but it must be done honestly and must be done with a sensitivity to all those involved, there is true inter-denominational schooling. And this would mean that, as I’ve said, the core part of the teaching of religion would be done in common. It would be shared, just as inter-denominational worship is a shared business, not a separated activity but a shared activity. And then the confessional or denominational teaching would be left to a parish. The core Christian teaching is done in common; the individual denominational teaching would be left to a parochial community setting. And this has to be done, I think, seriously and honourably, and should never be a retreat into the lowest common denominator religion.
Now I’ve been very surprised at how much my own thinking has changed over the past year, but particularly in the past couple of years – the realisation that in Ireland we are not any longer talking about ethos in terms of the Christian religion. We are talking now in an inter-faith context, and what we say in terms of a Christian ethos has now got to have much broader boundaries – we have to see what indeed is in common between those of different Christian faiths. And that is probably going to be the largest challenge for Christian churches in the years ahead.
Chair (Barbara Sweetman FitzGerald): “Thank you very much, Dr. Clarke, for mapping out the topic so well and so clearly for us. It will be interesting to see how many on the panel agree with you. Our next speaker is Fr. Frank Kelly from Granard who has been the Ardagh and Clonmacnoise representative on the Catholic School Managers’ Association which he chaired for seven years.
2. Fr. Frank Kelly, P.P., Granard
“Thank you …I come from a small town in north Co. Longford, on the Cavan border, called Granard. It was described once by a British civil servant as “a place of no significance whatsoever”. I have spent my life trying to undo that assertion!
Background: “First my own background: I am 63 years of age and I was ordained a priest in 1964 in Maynooth. I spent the ten years from 1964-1974 as a secondary teacher in Longford. After that I spent a very happy fourteen years as curate in the southern town of the diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise, Banagher. After that I had a short session, about a year and a half, taking care of a parish where the parish priest was ill, from 1986 to 1988. In 1988 I arrived in Granard and there I have remained.
Educational background: “I have been interested in matters of education over the years and I was fortunate to move out of secondary education and into parish ministry just at the time when developments in primary education were beginning to happen. I went to Banagher in December 1974, and 1975 was the year in which Boards of Management were introduced into primary schools. The single management system which had been there from the 1830s ceased in that year.
“In October 1975, Boards of Management were set up and I started at that time to chair a board of management. I have worked with boards in different parishes since then. I work as an adviser in the diocese, and for some time I had the honour to chair a national body – the Catholic Primary School Managers’ Association. So that’s where I am coming from.
Mission of the Church: “And I am coming from a commitment – maybe, in some instances, an unquestioning commitment of a sort – to denominational education. Not that I have ever had any problems with other faiths or other cultures, but for a lot of my life I didn’t experience them. It was only in my thirties or forties I suppose that I got to meet any substantial group of people from another denomination, and get to know them, and grow to understand, first of all, and hopefully also to appreciate, their contributions to education, to culture and to faith and faith formation.
“My starting point would be to reflect that at this time of the year we are celebrating the feast of the Ascension of our Lord and the feast of the Pentecost, we’re celebrating the occasion when we’re told the Church was founded. We have that lovely account of the founding of the Church in the Acts of the Apostles, and we have of course also in the Gospels of Saint Mathew and Saint Mark and Saint Luke, the account of the return of the Lord to the Father in glory, and how on each occasion as he parted with his disciples he gave them a commission to go out and preach. Most explicitly, in the words that St. Mark relates – “the Lord confirmed their work by signs that accompanied them”.
Role of faith community: “So it is out of that background, that faith and that understanding of the mission of the Church that I speak. And when I talk about the Church I am very insistent … that the Church is not me, it’s not the priests, it’s not the bishops, it’s the faith community. And it was the faith community, certainly under inspirational leadership, which undertook the spread of the Gospel, and it is the wider faith community, I think, which is called upon now more than ever to undertake the work of Christian education.
“I have no difficulty at all, Bishop Clarke, with anything you have said, and I think that in your time you have been prophetic in your utterances in relation to educational matters.
Rights and duties of parents: “. The first thing that I would like to say is that from our perspective – the perspective of the Irish Catholic School Managers Association, which is an umbrella body for the management of Catholic schools – there are about 3, 100 of them in the Republic – the first thing that we are very insistent about, very adamant about, is that we want to give the parents their rightful place as the educators of their children. And whatever we do as a church group, we do only to help the parents to fulfil that obligation and privilege which is theirs. That is acknowledged openly in articles 42 and 44 of the Constitution and we acknowledge it too:
“The State acknowledges that the primary natural educator of the child is the family, and guarantees to respect the inalienable right and duty of parents to provide, according to their means, for the religious, moral, intellectual, physical and social education of their children.”
That’s where we stand.
Legal definition of Roman Catholic school: “A few years back an arrangement was made whereby the balance in the boards of management of primary schools was slightly altered, so that the patrons no longer had absolute majority. Their position and the denomination of the schools was copper-fastened by what is known as the Deed of Variation – the variation of the deeds of trust of the primary schools. “In the process it had to be spelt out what we meant by a Roman Catholic school:
A Roman Catholic school, established in connection with the Minister, aims at promoting the full and harmonious development of all aspects of the person of the pupil – intellectual, physical, cultural, moral and spiritual, including a living relationship with God and with other people. The school models and promotes a philosophy of life inspired by belief in God and in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Catholic school provides a religious education for the pupils in accordance with the doctrines, practices and traditions of the Roman Catholic Church and promotes the formation of the pupils in the Catholic faith.
Catholic schools are openand welcoming to all: ““Now that’s the legal position, if you like, as stated and set out. Having set it out clearly I would also want to make it equally clear that the Catholic school so set up, so constituted, opens its doors and more importantly its arms and its heart, to any and every pupil of any religious faith or none. There is nothing narrow-minded in the setting out of what is meant by Catholic schooling or of the philosophy or ethos of the Catholic school. It is as open as I have said. We can, we believe, within the context of our Catholic schools, make welcome, and make happy, and make at home, and celebrate the diversity of any and all who may choose to come to us.
Now it wouldn’t have been my experience very often to have children of other denominations in the schools that I worked in – that’s not because we kept them out or because we didn’t make them welcome. It’s simply because they weren’t there. So most of my immediate experience is, of course, operating Catholic schools, Catholic education for Catholic pupils. But I want to emphasise – with as much emphasis as I possibly can in a gathering of this kind – that Catholic schools are open and everyone is welcome. There is no way that we want to keep anybody outside the schools that we operate. They are as welcome, literally, as the “flowers of May”.
Sharing of core religious beliefs: “Bishop Clarke emphasised the need for a greater coming together and a greater sharing of our core religious beliefs, and that is something that I certainly, and I don’t think anyone involved with Catholic education would have any difficulty with. We would certainly welcome a sharing of our beliefs. Because the more we are together, the more we remain Christian.
Parents and families in Catholic schools not a monolith: “The big problem that I see for us in Catholic education is precisely the one outlined by the Bishop – that people may be in Catholic schools for a whole lot of motives, not all of which are entirely, or at all, related to being Catholic. The notion of a Church of Ireland school as a place where you could get a good education, without too much emphasis on religion, isn’t, I think, any longer confined to those who might be using Church of Ireland schools. We have plenty of them in our own schools. The involvement of the parents and the involvement of the families of those who go to our schools with the life of the parish is the very variable thing and a very many-faceted thing at the moment. We cannot be sure at all that the people that we have in our schools represent any kind of a monolith, but maybe that’s a good thing because it is more of a challenge.
Ethos: “The Bishop says he doesn’t like the word “ethos”, and I’m not that fond of it either. Ethos – I prefer the term “characteristic spirit” of the school. This is best expressed, and helped to develop, and enriched as a result of the continuing interaction between a shared dialogue on the core values of the school – including the patron, the trustees, the boards of management, the principal teacher and his/her staff, the parents and pupils and the daily practices which endeavour to embody these values. We don’t believe that there can be a value-free system of education, anymore than I think the Bishop does, and we believe that religious education should be provided for our Catholic pupils in accordance with the doctrines and traditions of our own Church, but if people come in to share our schooling from outside our tradition we will do our best, and more than our best, to ensure that their religious education will be not in any sense be hampered, compromised or neglected.
Gentleness and respect: “The last thing that I would like to say tonight is to return, if I may, to the scriptural theme that I started with – the commission given by Our Lord himself to the apostles and to their successors. In the first letter of the apostle Peter this statement occurs – and I think it’s a very worthwhile statement in relation to Catholic education, or indeed to any education. Peter said to his followers:
“Always be prepared to give an answer – to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have, but do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience so that those who speak maliciously against you and against your good behaviour in Christ my be ashamed of their slander.”
Catholic education at its best: “I believe that, at its best, Catholic education – and I have no doubt the same is true of the education imparted by other religious denominations – is open, it is embracing, it is welcoming and it is sustaining. And I trust that as the years go on and as we develop closer links with members of other religious denominations and with people of no religious affiliation at all, that we will be able to demonstrate that within our schools we can make everybody welcome. Thank you very much.”
Chair (Barbara Sweetman FitzGerald): “We have an agreement on the sharing of core beliefs, but I wonder about the future – when there will no longer be religious running schools, and how the characteristic spirit might be maintained then? Our next speaker is Paul Rowe who has been chairperson of Educate Together and has been involved in Educate Together schools for fourteen years as parent, activist, board member and national representative.
3. Paul Rowe, Vice-Chair of Educate Together:
“Thank you…. I am approaching the question from a different perspective. I have never publicly announced any allegiance to any particular religious faith. That means only that – and I’m approaching this from an entirely educational and human rights perspective.
Historical background: “Just to give you some history: Educate Together is the national organisation of the multi-denominational schools in the south of Ireland. The first of our schools was established in 1977 in Dalkey. We’ve had a tremendously hard time trying to establish our sector since then but we now have 21 schools. They’re spread fairly well across the country – Sligo, Galway, Limerick, Ennis, Cork, Kilkenny as well as the greater Dublin area.
Parent-initiated development: “The characteristic of this school movement is that it is an entirely parent-initiated development. I did a quick sum calculating the total amount of State funding that we’ve had over those 27 years of existence, and it doesn’t even reach the modern equivalent of 100,000 euro – for that entire period! That’s in terms of our national organisation – that obviously doesn’t apply to the schools which are perfectly ordinary national schools, in the fullest sense of the word.
Motivation for multi-denominational school movement: “What has motivated this school movement? Essentially it was motivated by the situation where a group of parents felt that they were faced with a complete monopoly in Irish primary education of schools which were legally obliged to uphold a particular religious ethos, and that they had no choice, and in order to create a choice they had to set up the schools themselves. And they applied to the government and they got no particular recompense whatsoever. Up until 1998, our school communities had to buy the sites themselves and pay 15% of the building costs to establish the schools, which you can understand was a huge financial burden that thankfully has been removed since 1998.
Legal framework: “The characteristic is that the role of patron in our school is carried out by a company limited by guarantee which has charitable status. It is operated under the terms of the Companies Act, and has to operate as a patron under its articles. In other words this is a legal framework, a set of legal commitments which the entire operation of the school must follow. If it doesn’t, any teacher, any parent, can easily apply to the courts to have this corrected.
“The legal commitments that we give in running the school are:
First of all our schools are multi-denominational.
I have to apologise to the Bishop because what we term multi-denominational, he described as inter-denominational …We define multi-denominationalism as being: “all faiths and none, all cultural backgrounds, all social backgrounds and all ability backgrounds must be by law equally respected and cherished and supported in the operation of our schools”.
This is a fairly heavy weight commitment to make in the running of a school.
Our schools are also legally the only sector which by law are co-educational – we could not have single sex education at the school.
Our schools are emphatically committed to the concept of child-centredness in education. I know for those of you here who are primary teachers this isn’t anything particularly unique. But if we talk about education in its broader sense, in particular second level education, you’ll see the significance of that commitment.
The fourth legal commitment we make in the operation of our schools is that our schools are under democratic management – that the operation of the school, the characteristic spirit of the school, or the ethos of the school, emphatically endorses the idea of a partnership between the intense personal attention to the educational process of the parent, with the objective detached professional role of the teacher.
“So these are legal commitments which must be adhered to in the operation of the schools. We describe this as a rights-based approach to education.
Diverse world: “How this model has thrived and why we think it is significant is that if we look at the dynamics of Irish society now we see that we are in a social environment in which diversification, creativity and choice, in thought and in cultural, religious, ethical viewpoint, is an irreversible trend. This trend is fuelled not by subjective factors, not by difficulties in religious institutions, but by fundamental economic and social factors to do with communication technology, the development of the global economy and a whole series of other issues. The fact is that our children are growing up in a world which is radically more diverse than the world in which we grew up ourselves, and the issue for us as parents and educators is: what is the best way of preparing children to grow up and live in that world?
Religious education programme: “How we address it is that our schools operate a religious education programme. This is a comprehensive programme of education about spirituality, faith, morals, ethics and faith systems. This is not a Godless school, this is not the American model in which all discussion of spirituality and identity, culture and religion is kept outside the door. We operate on a basis that we must cherish and support the identity of every single child that comes into our school, and they must have that cherishing and support without question. They mustn’t have to put up their hands and say “I’m different”. Our watchword from the very original meetings in 1977 was that “no child should be an outsider” in the education process.
Protection of rights of teachers: “At the same time we think that this also addresses the human rights, the fundamental ethical and religious rights of all those who work in our schools: that is that our teaching staff are contractually obliged to carry out this religious education programme which is a discussion and education about religious faith. They are never placed in a position where they must by their contract teach as religious doctrine or truth a viewpoint that they may or may not hold themselves.
Opt-in facility: “At the same time, our schools are also obliged to facilitate religious instruction, or the teaching of doctrine, as an “opt-in” element which takes place outside the main school programme. Again, what I emphasise is – that no child has to make themselves appear different from their peers in the school or in the class, because of their identity. It is an “opt-in” facility, not an “opt-out” facility.
Advantages: “We feel that this offers huge advantages. First of all, our schools generally – they are all very different but generally they would celebrate the main faith festivals of the main faith groupings in the world in the school year – the Chinese New year, the end of Ramadan, the Hindu Festival of Light, as well as Christmas, Easter, and as well as Halloween, the more traditional or Celtic faith festivals. And there is a huge advantage, as we would see it, in having an environment in which children can explore these as celebrations. This can be integrated in the entire programme of the school, whether it is artistic, musical, historical, geographic or even in mathematics if we want to explore, for example, the Hindu tradition in maths. “Once that educational programme is in place, children from the age of four are in an environment in which they become entirely comfortable with the fact that people think differently. They are not threatened, there is no peer pressure on the assumption that people think the same. At the same time they are fully free, with their families, and with the religious organisations, to develop the religious instruction aspect of their education after school hours – sometimes it’s before school starts in the morning, other times it’s afterwards, in some cases at the weekend.
Religious formation: “One of the things which has been most significant to me in recent years – in the last five years – is the number of people who are seriously concerned with the religious formation of children who are opting for this model of education. The fact is that well over 70% of the children in our schools come from Catholic families. And talking to some of these families who have chosen this particular model, they point out this – that for the future of religious identity and religious formation they have no question but that they consider that the family and the religious organisation is where the responsibility for the projection of religious faith takes place. And yet they see an enormous advantage in having a child in an environment in which it is perfectly natural that people think differently, that they can talk about differences of viewpoint and become completely at ease with that scenario. It is our contention that it may – and I emphasise may – it may actually offer a premium environment for the religious formation of children because it provides this conscious environment together with facilities for full religious instruction.
Multi-denominationalism: “Just going back to Bishop Clarke’s definitions. I feel obliged to clarify. For us multi-denominationalism emphatically is not a neutral concept, or a hands-off concept. Multi-denominationalism is creating an environment of active positive support for the identity of the child. It is active engagement with the full identity of the child which has to include their rights and their inherent and spontaneous development of a spiritual and ethical dimension. It is perfectly possible to create such an environment whilst also being legally obliged not to favour any particular religious faith.
Inter-denominational model: “The interdenominational model, to our view, is a model which has developed and can only seriously be sustained in an environment where we have two or three, or a number of very stable religious communities in a very stable social environment. My children went to a school in Glasnevin in north Dublin. The children in sixth class did a survey – they surveyed all the places of religious worship in the Dublin area. We would contend that this is actually the first such survey that was ever done even by professional social scientists. … The children themselves brought up the necessity to identify the fact that a significant number of people have personal creeds, that is that they are still searching. That they must be allowed to explore their identity in an environment which is both supportive of that ethos, and that spirit, and at the same time protective of their own identities. This group came back with 13 definable religious groupings in Glasnevin alone, and this is the society in which we actually live in, and which our children are growing up to live in.
Human rights agenda: “So, this is where we see the significance of this particular model. We think that this is an agenda which has to be taken up as part of the human rights agenda of Irish society. We have to bring into balance an educational system in which currently 99% of all our primary schools are legally obliged to uphold a particular religious ethos. We are arguing very strongly that there should be a balanced national system in which at least 10% of the schools available to parents should be offered the same type of protection and support for the identity of our children – whatever that is – as our schools do.
Chair: “Thank you Paul, and I have no doubt there will be many questions directed at you when we get to question time. Our next speaker is Dr. Kevin Williams, who is Head of Education at the Mater Dei Institute of Education and a past President of the Educational Studies Association of Ireland…”
4. Dr. Kevin Williams (Head of Education, Mater Dei Institute):
“It’s rather difficult for me to follow three such eloquent speakers because they have already said much of what I was going to say, and it’s going to be worse for John Carr! …..
Ethos: “….. Like some of the speakers, I’m uneasy with this term “ethos” because I think in some situations it is a kind of a code word for protecting what we hold. However, I think that we shouldn’t be so quick to abandon the word and we should examine the word a little bit more fully. It derives from the Greek word for “habit” – and “habit” in this sense means “lived values”. We make a mistake if we associate “ethos” exclusively with schools. I was struck on Saturday night by an expression used by Gay Mitchell when he was talking after the elections and said “we have to look to the ethos of our party”.
“I was also struck by something John Bruton said – although he didn’t use the word “ethos” – on the same programme, when he was contrasting Fine Gael with Sinn Fein. He said “those Sinn Fein activists have an energy and a passion that we don’t seem to have in our party.” And what he was talking about in that situation was, I think, also “ethos”. So the notion of ethos extends way beyond schools and applies to any human institution, even at very very micro-levels. For example, you’ll find families and couples who are very welcoming, whose ethos is inclusive, and you’ll find families and couples whose ethos is very exclusive. Likewise even with regard to societies – some societies and some social classes can have an ethos. I remember when I was a young man, before I took up the study of philosophy, I studied French, and I spent a long time in France. And one of the things that repelled me was the ethos of upper class Catholic French society. I thought it was extraordinarily non-inclusive, and it’s the type of ethos which sustains politicians like Le Pen – although obviously he doesn’t draw his support, even largely, from the upper middle class.
“So the term “ethos” applies to all human associations, at both micro- and macro-levels. And indeed I understand, from academics in the business world, that the ethos of companies is very important in determining their success. … Successful companies can very often be identified by their ethos, rather than by, for instance, their slick marketing skills. So “ethos” is a much wider and more embracing concept than sometimes we assume.
Gaelic Athletic Association: “Actually another medium-level institution where the notion of ethos is very salient is the GAA and some of the debates about whether Croke Park should be used for playing soccer and rugby and other games has to do with the “ethos” of the Association. So ethos does not refer to schools only……
Religion not only aspect of ethos: “When we talk about “ethos” in schools we commonly think about religion only. But religion isn’t the only aspect of the ethos of a school. I have the privilege of going into many schools and one of the things that strikes me is the different “ethoi” in different schools. This is reflected in the prominence given to different symbols – of sporting or cultural achievement or of community service. Coming here tonight – it was my first visit – I was very struck by the artwork and by the ethos of inclusiveness and outreach which that artwork symbolises. Schools express their ethos in similar ways.
Historical background: “In Irish schools, traditionally, a denominational religious ethos has been the default ethos, but interestingly when the State system was set up by the British in 1831, it was envisaged as being inter-denominational. Of course, that didn’t work out and as time went on the system became more and more denominational until 1977 when we had the establishment of the first multi-denominational schools.
Future: “Whether we like it or not, the schools that we have are hugely denominational in management structure and consequently, in principle, in ethos.
I just wonder about what the future is going to hold, particularly with regard to new communities. If these communities are given a vote with regard to the kind of school they want. I wonder if denominational schools would be the chosen model of the majority. But that’s really a matter for speculation.
Schools obliged to be open: “But what’s not a matter for speculation is of course that the schools that we have – the denominational schools – are actually obliged, as Fr. Kelly said, to be open. In the first place in their character as Christian schools they should be open to young people from all backgrounds. They are also legally obliged to accommodate young people in their catchment areas in order to give effect to their constitutional entitlement to education. And this means that they have, in principle, to be open.
Code of Good Practice: “…There is one phrase that came across very very strongly in the White Paper of 1995. The Department of Education stresses that in order to accommodate the children whose parents do not subscribe to the denominational ethos of the school, schools would have to institute a Code of Good Practice.
“A committee was supposed to be established to explore this, but it never came about. But I think that there’s a job of work to be done in teasing out the character of this Code of Good Practice whereby the denominational schools that we largely have can genuinely be open to the children of parents who do not subscribe to the denomination of the school.
Unthinking embracing of the rights of parents: “In saying that, I’m struck by something. We assume that the religious convictions of the parents are also going to be those of the children. I think that assumption needs to be looked at very closely and indeed, at times, challenged. For instance I was in a school supervising one time, when a boy came up to the student teacher after class and asked him – “What should a boy do when his parents don’t want him to go to Mass?” There is an assumption that young people are always going to reject religion, but that need not necessarily be the case. We have to put a question mark over the view that the rights of parents always trump the wishes of their children.
Closed school: “In teasing out what good practice is going to involve, I think it is perhaps easier if we consider what would count as a “closed” kind of school. I came across a relevant description in a short novel by the American author, Edith Wharton, entitled Madame de Treymes. One of the characters – an American woman – is describing what it is like for her child growing up in upper middle class France, the kind of France that I was familiar with as a teenager and which I found so objectionable. …
– Everything is prepared in advance – his political and religious convictions, his judgments of people, his sense of honour, his ideas of women, his whole view of life. He is taught to see vileness and corruption in everyone not of his own way of thinking, and in every idea that does not directly serve the religious purposes of his class. The truth isn’t a fixed thing, it’s not used to test actions by, it’s tested by them, and made to fit with them –
This is the type of closed ethos that we certainly don’t want in our schools.
Open ethos: “In the discussion perhaps we can try and tease out in more detail what an open ethos will involve. As a first step, the clause obliging teachers “to be careful in the presence of children of different religious beliefs, not to touch on matters of controversy”, deleted in 1965 from the Rules for Primary Schools, needs to be reinstated. The spirit of this clause is no doubt observed in our schools but this spirit needs to be articulated fully.”
Chair: “Thank you very much and thank you for keeping to the time so well. Our next speaker is John Carr, General Secretary of the INTO. He has served the INTO as Education Officer and General Treasurer, and as Education Officer he oversaw the publication of 25 major education policy statements and represented the INTO on the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment.
5. John Carr, General Secretary of the INTO
[Editor’s note: due to time constraints, John Carr was unable to deliver all of the speech hehad prepared for the talk. However, he kindly supplied the written script, and, In order to make our report as comprehensive as possible, we have decided to include the missing material, alongside the actual transcript. The passages omitted from the spoken speech are reproduced below in separate paragraphs – in italics.]
“Go raibh maith agaibh. I don’t know if it is the ambience of the place or not, but normally at this stage, you get people shuffling their feet, but I notice that you’re all glued, whether you’re agreeing with what is going on or not! I’ve got the “graveyard shift” and the graveyard shift means that you’re probably tired listening to all the stories so far. I just want to tell you a story to lighten you up a bit. There was this young man, Murphy, who was sent down by the courts to an industrial school in Clonmel – they’re known as detention schools in the new Act. On his first day down there, naturally he was not going to conform to the school situation and the teacher told him “right, Murphy, if you don’t behave yourself, we have ways and means of dealing with you down here” and of course Murphy kept going and this went on and on, and as every teacher here knows, you warn once, you warn twice, you warn three times but you don’t give him a fourth chance, so the teacher said, “that’s it, tomorrow morning you’ll have to do an essay for me – that’s the punishment we have here for people who are not conforming, and the essay will be entitled “What I Do After School”.
“And Murphy came back the following day with the essay. He dad the title written down ok, and he had one sentence and the one sentence was “I do be glad”! And I hope you do be glad now that we are coming to the end of the formal aspect of the evening! Don’t take that out of my time, Chair!
Diversity of Ethos: a Professional Response
“I thought that by the time you reached me that you would know what “ethos” is and that everybody would be in favour of ethos, but we’re getting more confusing as we’re coming towards the last speaker, so I decided I would just take one aspect of ethos, and that is the aspect that is causing us a lot of difficulties at the present time.
Changing Ireland: “Recent times in Ireland have been characterised by rapid social and economic change to which the education system cannot, and in my view should not, remain immune. As well as reflecting a changing Ireland it can be argued that schools themselves have played no small part in helping to create an Ireland that recognises the need to accommodate difference, promote equality and celebrate diversity. However, I assert that schools, where they have been provided with a framework of a national educational initiative that has laid the foundation for change, have embraced this concept of a changing Ireland. We as a group have been proactive in demanding and implementing change in a variety of areas. A raft of policy documents published by the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation in recent years on a range of topics including the integration of children with special needs, educational disadvantage, gender equality and the inclusion of non-national children, and they have all led or at least coincided with similar national initiatives. These, we would argue, have assisted teachers to assume a level of professional responsibility at school level and accommodate change that reflects a changing Ireland.
Religious education: “Yet in spite of such accommodation of difference and respect for diversity in many areas of life teachers by and large have been unable to extend such ideals into the area of religious education, and that’s what it’s all about at the end of the day. I contend that this is not because of any unwillingness on the part of teachers to embrace change in this area. Neither do I intend to apportion blame on this issue. Denominationally controlled schools are a legacy of history. However, I do seek to discuss possible lines of development and maybe seek comprehensive, creative and workable solutions to the practical challenges posed by a changing Ireland, and the need to accommodate different characteristic spirits in a changing Ireland.
The Role of the Teacher: “That teachers should be willing to embrace such change or, more correctly, be in a position to respond to such change, might be considered unlikely when the historical aspect of control in education is examined. Literature abounds with evidence of how primary teaching in particular was controlled by both Church and State, often with missionary zeal and evangelical enthusiasm. A passage from Bryan McMahon’s autobiography ‘The Master’ serves to exemplify the extent of Church control over teachers:
Sunlight streaming through stained glass windows throws scarves of colour on the ranked boys and girls. Presently the Bishop moves out of the sanctuary to begin his examination of the children. That examination in the olden days! In front of the parishioners! The teacher was hard set to win in this religious arena. If a child failed it was the teacher’s fault; a sidelong word or query to one of the clergy and the bishop (had he been told in advance by the Diocesan Examiner where the weakness lay?) made straight for the weakest link in the chain. Now and again as the Bishop examined a pupil his eyes rolled side long to see if the teacher was prompting a slow answerer. The teacher trembled lest the Bishop ask a child to hand up his ticket; in even more stringent days the ticket could be dramatically torn up to indicate rejection and the child put back for Confirmation on another date in another parish. This was the ultimate shame –
“Today’s shame may be somewhat different. Teachers are increasingly reporting thatthey are finding it more difficult to get local clergy to visit classroomsand schools, even classes being prepared for the sacraments. Indeed there is anecdotal evidence to suggest that many local clergy do not view this as a core activity or an essential part of their role. Yet at official level churches cling to the concept of ethos to ensure that the teacher does not have the freedom to mediate the curriculum to pupils other than as prescribed in centrally produced religious education programmes. In short there has been a pendulum swing and in the face of less and less clerical involvement the school teacher alone is left with the religious formation of the child.
“Now the State in exercising control over teachers was no less enthusiastic through the office of its inspectorate, but I ‘m not going into that now. ..
[Although in recent years there have been few incidents to rival the 1912 dispute which led to the banner front page headline in one Dublin daily newspaper ‘Ottoman Tyranny in the Education Office’. Nevertheless through a rating system that required inspectors to sum up a teacher’s work in one or two words such as ‘fair’ ‘good’ ‘ efficient’ or ‘highly efficient’ the state maintained an aggressive level of control over teachers and their work. Again the literature on the subject abounds with evidence to support this argument. ]
“But gradually teachers broke away from their slavish dependency upon the State and the vast majority of teachers embraced the opportunity over recent decades to mediate – to have greater control over what was happening in their classrooms.
[This new found freedom evolved with a radical child centred curriculum – Curaclam na Bunscoile – launched in 1971. This curriculum emphasised individual difference, the development of the child’s full potential, environment and experiential learning. The individual teacher was urged to be flexible in her/his approach to work, receptive to new ideas and be aware of the varied needs and interests of pupils. The door to a new era in teacher professionalism was opening. Although restricted by large class sizes and a lack of resources teachers have succeeded in developing in their pupils an appreciation of difference, the capacity to think clearly creatively and critically and a receptiveness to new ideas. A rigid programme of study, part of which was summarily examined in the Primary School Certificate, has been replaced by a curriculum mediated by a professional teacher to the needs of individual pupils]
“At local and at national level teachers have built upon and extended this newfound professional freedom. In schools today teachers plan co-operatively and the School Plan reflects the concerns of pupils, teachers and the wider community. At national level teachers have become the authoritative voice in education and led the way in the development of a Revised Curriculum which is currently being implemented in our schools.
[However, for teachers this professional authority in education is not to be confused with what often passes for professional authority in other professions. Teachers have not sought to cloak themselves in gowns or coats of authority, have not employed occupational or social distancing techniques and have avoided practices and procedures of occupational control that more often define “arrogance” rather than “authority”. Instead the teaching profession has sought to engage and consult those with a legitimate interest in education and build a partnership for the benefit of pupils. Concern for clients rather than self-interest has been a defining feature of emergent teacher professionalization ]
“This emerging professional authority has allowed teachers at school level to respond to a changing in Ireland. In the same way as academic difference has been accommodated, cultural and ethnic difference have been facilitated.
Accommodating religious diversity: “But accommodating religious diversity, however, has proven to be more problematic. Multi-denominational [schools] had managed to accommodate from a religious point of view, but in an inter-denominational context, we have yet to reach that accommodation. The challenges posed by religious difference however are rather different given that the majority of schools remain denominationally controlled and managed. Churches have insisted on retaining control over ethos – it doesn’t matter what we call it, “characteristic spirit” or “ethos” or whatever we call it.
Bishop Duffy, in warning against any reduction in the Catholic ethos of schools stated that the imparting of religious knowledge was not as important as faith formation. He stated that the Catholic Church would have no difficulty in ceding the Chairpersonship of Boards of Management to lay persons provided that the Catholic ethos was protected.
Cardinal Connell in 1991 – and I’m sure he hasn’t changed from that – stated that “the primary school can be a place not only for the evangelisation of pupils but also for the continuing religious formation of the pupils, parents and their families.”
“So when we come as teachers to deliver a religious education programme, we’re doing it in the context, not of religious knowledge, but of religious formation and religious instruction. And the question we’ve got to pose, in relation to this new concept of inter-denominational education, “can we as teachers be responsible for the religious formation of children of different religions at the same time?” And that’s the challenge, and I would argue that that challenge has not been faced.
[Yet motivated by concern for client interest schools have shown a willingness to be flexible in making alternative arrangements for those who do not wish to avail of that particular religious education. However, such arrangements are often made more easily at the level of theory or officialdom than at local level where the constraints of classroom accommodation, supervision arrangements and indeed the needs of children apply. In truth, ad hoc arrangements are made to suit local circumstances by teachers anxious to accommodate the wishes of parents and the educational needs and rights of children]
Competing demands: “And yet it is perhaps within individual religions that an increasing diversity is also beginning to emerge. This reflects the changing nature and make up of adult religious practice and belief in Ireland. There is no one religious ethos now, even though we call them various denominations. The homogeneous society of the past is fragmenting and schools, on an increasingly regular basis, encounter conflicting parental expectations with regard to religious education from parents of the same religion. These can often take the form of requests or sometimes demands to de-emphasize or sometimes ignore certain aspects of religious education. We’re facing that on a regular basis. At the same time many of those schools are dealing with parental expectations seeking that the ‘traditional’ emphases will be maintained. Such competing demands at the point of delivery of the religious education programme – which is the school – can cause tensions in schools seeking to implement a religious education programme. And that’s precisely what has happened in Dunboyne, where we have, and rightly so, some people saying “we wish to have a traditional religious formation of our children”, whereas others would hold a different view.
Changing patterns of religious practice: “Indeed changing patterns of religious practice among parents lead many teachers to wonder if they alone are being tasked with the religious development of a majority of children. Religious education is being provided against a background of increasing non-participation in community based religious activity. The traditional place of religion in the family is changing rapidly and schools are increasingly expected to provide compensatory religious education in this context
Hidden curriculum: “A further issue is that some parents not only do not want their children to attend religion classes but they also object to their children being educated within schools whose dominate ethos is not of their own religion. These parents have the right to withdraw their children from religion classes, but issues arise in the context of religious education that is fully integrated with the rest of the curriculum. How can you have an ethos that permeates the whole curriculum when you now are looking at two ethoi? (if “ethoi” is now the plural for “ethos”!). How does it permeate the whole structure of the day? The concept of the hidden curriculum that reflects the religious ethos of the school also, in my view, requires examination
Inter-denominational schools: “Yet, in spite of parents not practising and the churches not supporting, the teacher continues to participate in the formation of a particular religious doctrine. In multi-denominational schools a partnership of management, parents and teachers has successfully developed guidelines in relation to religious education. The emergence of inter-denominational schools poses new challenges in relation to faith formation in the context of equity between two or more Christian traditions. A major dilemma would certainly emerge if an inter-denominational school involving a Christian and a non-Christian church is established, and let’s see the fun that we would have then in relation to the establishment and the teaching of a religious programme in that context!
I mean who knows what type of school, when we introduce this new concept of inter-denominational? The issue that is currently occupying people’s minds is how to deliver a religious education programme in the context of an interdenominational ethos, bearing in mind that both denominations will insist on the religious formation of their young members? As Bishop Duffy and Cardinal Connell said – it’s not about religious education, it’s about religious formation. And the question then arises for the practitioner, who is the person that’s there on a daily basis, how do you deliver?
“And there are suggestions emerging there, that maybe perhaps we’ll have to start looking again at the dilemma in relation to inter-denominational education. These dilemmas must be examined and accommodation reached.
Government Response “The Government has, in my view, abrogated its responsibility in this line, bearing in mind the Education Act, but I don’t have enough time to go into this today. ..
[The official response to the challenge of change in regard to religious education is in marked contrast to many initiatives that have been put in place to ensure or promote other aspects of diversity. The Government White Paper Charting our Education Future (1995) signalled the intention to reiterate the rightsof schools, in accordance with their religious ethos, to provide denominational religious education and instruction to their students, while underpinning the constitutional rights of parents to withdraw their children from religious education instruction.
Schools would be required, in their management and planning processes, to ensure that the rights of those who did not subscribe to the schools ethos were protected in a caring manner. This can hardly be described as a radical departure reflecting as it does the long-standing Rules for National Schools. The word ethos did not appear in the resultant Education Act (1998) which charges a Board of Management to “uphold, and be accountable to the Patron for so upholding, the characteristic spirit of the school as determined by the cultural, educational, moral, religious, social, linguistic and spiritual values and traditions which inform and are characteristic of the objectives and conduct of theschool…”. It further charges Boards to “have regard to the principles and requirements of a democratic society and have respect and promote respectfor the diversity of values, beliefs, traditions, languages and ways of life in society”.
[The Revised Primary School Curriculum (1999) reflects the Education Act and states that it seeks to develop the full potential of the individual taking into account the child’s affective, aesthetic, spiritual, moral and religious needs. According to the curriculum Irish society recognises the right of the individual to choose the particular form of religious expression that reflects the spiritual aspirations and experience he/she seeks. It acknowledges too the importance of tolerance towards the practice, culture and lifestyle of a range of religious convictions and expressions and aspires to developing children a tolerance and understanding towards the belief of others. It too acknowledges the right of parents to arrange for their children’s education in a school whose religious ethos coincides with their own religious beliefs. It states that it is the responsibility of the school to provide a religious education that is consistent with its ethos and at the same time flexible in making alternative organisational arrangements for those who do not wish to avail of that particular religious education. There are no guidelines as to how this is to be done. However, the Revised Curriculum recognises the rights of the different church authorities to design curricula in religious education at primary level and to supervise their teaching and implementation and therefore does not include a religious education curriculum.]
Need for guidelines: “It is clear that recent developments in the area of curriculum and legislation have done little to move the process of reflecting diversity in the area of religious education forward. Denominational schools with a particular religious ethos are a feature of the Irish educational landscape. While a number of multi-denominational schools and a smaller number of inter-denominational schools have been established it is clear that these cannot meet new needs in many parts of the country. So our smaller schools down the country will increasingly be accommodating, not alone diversity in terms of culture and ethnic origins, but also diversity in relation to religious education. And whereas, yes they will be welcoming, and yes, they will be accommodating, but how to be accommodating in the context of religious formation is the difficulty that we as practitioners are now being charged with without guidelines. And the sooner we get down to providing guidelines, and the churches, the denominations involved in inter-denominational schools come together themselves and decide on how this is to be provided, so that our teachers in inter-denominational schools can then get on with their work.
“…We are in a dilemma, and it’s easy talking from a theoretical point of view, and we can all have convergence in relation to ethoi and characteristic spirits, but when it comes down to the classroom and where my teachers sitting around here are charged with the delivery, then it is a different matter.
Forum on religious education: “The dilemmas and challenges posed for parents, policy makers, teachers, school authorities and indeed pupils by a changing Ireland in my view require careful consideration. It is not sufficient to leave such practices to individual schools to work out how such policies are to be translated into practice. Tonight I am calling for the establishment of a Major Forum on Religious Education representative of all of the partners in education, which will examine all the issues relating to religious education in Ireland.
Among the issues which the Forum should examine are:
The seemingly competing rights of churches to establish denominational schools with State aid and the rights of parents who have no choice but to send their children to religiously run schools. The fact that the State is now charged with the building of new schools, how will the State, in building its school in new estates, how will it accommodate the diversity of religious beliefs and views in a new housing estate? Who will the State lease the property to – will it release the property to one denomination? Will we have a school now, new schools being built now, where you will have three schools in one, or four schools in one – an inter-denominational school, a multi-denominational school, a denominational school Roman Catholic, and a denominational school Church of Ireland, and maybe perhaps we should consider then the Presbyterian or the Methodist traditions. Are they going to be accommodated under one umbrella? Are we going to have the new school? And these are issues we are not facing. The Education Act says the State should be responsible but also we have not gone the stage further on how to accommodate.
How do we look at the professional rights and obligations of teachers? Under contract, as we are, and when we are now involved in religious formation in a religion that is not necessarily your own, and for a teacher who is very committed and evangelical in terms of his or her own religion, how is that teacher going to be equally enthusiastic in the formation in a different religion or a religion with differences?
The possibility of a national core curriculum in religious education has to be looked at. We called for this ten years ago.
The implications of legislation for schools such as the Equal Status Act
The impact of changing demographics and the whole area of immigration – all of the new people, this new cultural diversity in Ireland. How are we going to accommodate it in the terms of the way we are handling religious education up to now?
The experience of other countries.
“The professional teacher neither claims a monopoly of wisdom in this area nor seeks to impose a preordained answer on others. Our job is not to either have control or demand. Our job is to teach what others agree on. Yes, we should have an input into that, but as a teacher, it is not my job to say it should be this ethos or that ethos. But it is my job to deliver a programme in the context of the ethos as given to me.
But what I am seeing clearly here tonight is that when we come to a denominational school, we have no difficulty – clearcut, programme there, teachers follow that programme. When it comes to a multi-denominational school – clearcut, there’s a programme there now, agreed between teachers, parents, management and patrons, and all are following it. When it comes to an inter-denominational school there will have to be guidelines, there will have to be agreement between the denominations as to how it is to be delivered, and when that agreement is made we will fulfil that programme, we will deliver that programme, with missionary zeal and evangelical enthusiasm. Thank you very much.”
Chair: “Thanks Mr. Carr. You may have called it the “graveyard shift” but you have woken us all up very well. You’ve been realistic and brought us really up to date…I’m not going to speak now myself, I’d rather go to questions…”
QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS
[Editor’s note: Due to poor sound reproduction there are some gaps in the following section – it is not a complete transcription, but all the main points and as much other material as possible has been included.]
Q.1. Re inter-denominational schools and dispute at Dunboyne gaelscoil: “I am a parent of a little girl at Dunboyne gaelscoil. I came here to seek some knowledge and wisdom. I have a couple of questions:
as regards religion in inter-denominational schools who is responsible for determining the characteristic spirit of the school?
who is responsible for the joint religious curriculum of inter-denominational schools.
in a situation where the full religious curriculum of both religions is required to be taught in school hours, what are the views of the panel on the fact that the teachers are required to teach the full curriculum of both religions?
Paul Rowe: “I don’t represent the inter-denominational schools but I do understand their structure. The responsibility on all national schools for the religious ethos rests with the patron, and the patron in an inter-denominational gaelscoil is the Foras Patrunachta…
Questioner: “It is my understanding that the patron is responsible for upholding the characteristic spirit of the school, but I don’t see anything where they are responsible for determining it… Where does it actually say that?”
Paul Rowe: “The Act … One of the paradoxically interesting things about the Act is that for the first time boards of management of schools are now legally obliged to uphold the ethos of their patrons. Whereas, before, the patron had complete control over staff…..
“In terms of drawing up the religious programme, that would be a matter for the patron. In our schools for example, the company limited by guarantee, which performs the function of the patron in a multi-denominational school, defines the ethical programme of our schools. Now we draw it up in a completely partnership approach. We would also draw up the religious education core curriculum as well. So unless we have a representative from An Foras Patrunachta here to answer that more fully. I’m sure the other representatives of patrons here would agree with my reading of the law.
Julitta Clancy: “We did invite a representative from An Foras Patrunachta to come here tonight, but they were unable to come.”
John Carr: “This issue will have to be resolved at some forum, and that’s why I called for a national forum. The patron has the right, under the Act, to define the ethos of the school and nobody is querying that particular right of the patron to do that. Now the board of management then is charged with the responsibility of upholding, and be accountable to the patron for so upholding, “the characteristic spirit of the school as determined by the cultural, educational, moral, religious, social, linguistic and spiritual values and tradition which inform and are characteristic of the objectives and conduct of the school.” Will anybody try and explain that? But that is precisely, according to the Act, that the board of management is responsible for upholding the characteristic spirit of the school as defined by the patron. Now in a denominational school that has not proved to be difficult because denominational will prescribe its own programme, and the teachers follow that programme and the characteristic spirit of that denomination. In a multi-denominational school, that has not proved to be difficult. I’m sure they went through their teething problems as well until eventually a religious education programme … emerged . It became an agreed programme. Now in an inter-denominational context, we don’t have as yet an agreed programme. And the difficulties that are emerging in terms of practice – how do you deliver? As the bishop said earlier on, in terms of the core faith there is very little difference between the religions, and let’s face that.
“The teachers would have no difficulty in delivering the common core programme in that context. But major doctrinal differences emerge in relation to the sacraments. And it’s in relation to the sacraments that the difficulties have emerged of whether or not sacraments can be taught to one group of children while the others are asked to leave the classroom. And whether or not that is inter-denominational ethos or not. And until we resolve that question, that is the question to be answered. It is the view of some that children should not be separated, and, as happens in a multi-denominational school, the major doctrinal differences in terms of the sacraments should be done by the churches, or by catechesis or indeed should be done by the teachers after shool hours. We’re not laying down how it should be done. But that’s the fundamental issue and that’s the issue at point in relation as to whether or not we can as teachers deliver a common programme when it comes to issues like transubstantiation….”
Fr. Kelly: “I feel very sorry – we talk about cherishing everybody equally, and about celebrating diversity. … I don’t want to comment about Dunboyne specifically, because I’m too far from it and I don’t know enough about it. There seems to me to be an emerging situation whereby it’s not possible to celebrate diversity, where certain elements of the diversity don’t admit of celebration in school apparently. I wonder, when we talk so much and so long about celebrating diversity that it seems to me to be an extraordinary situation that this has occurred at all.
“What seems to me to be very extraordinary is that a situation should have been allowed to develop whereby how this was going to be dealt with wasn’t worked out in advance. The old philosophical principle … doesn’t seem to me to be working out. We can’t wait until the thing happens. To that extent I could endorse a good deal of what John has said about getting down seriously to talking these things through, and arriving at agreed positions. That sort of situation where a school is X years in existence and has actually coped with the question of First Communion before, I think, that there shouldn’t be by now a modus operandi whereby you would know exactly what is to be done, and it would be done, and there would be no argument about it. It seems to me if we are going to celebrate everyone’s culture, we must sort that one out, and it must be sorted out at home, not in the columns of the newspapers or in programmes on television.”
Bishop Richard Clarke: “I was actually fascinated by some of what John Carr was saying because I wondered, with all due respect, what you know of Church of Ireland schools. You’re not talking about a monolith there, we are responsible for Methodists, for Baptists, for Presbyterians. I know for the bulk of you that’s exactly the same, but no it’s not. Baptists would have as huge a sacramental difference as the Church of Ireland would with Roman Catholics – a far bigger one as to whether you were baptised as an infant or whether you were baptised as an adult, whether God can only, if you like, “do the trick” in baptism if you were baptised as an adult. That’s a huge doctrinal difference, it’s a much bigger one because Roman Catholics and Church of Ireland have exactly the same theology of baptism and yet we can manage to encompass within a single school people whose doctrines would be very different. This is where I kind of feel, what Paul was talking about, the non-Roman Catholic schools have actually to deal with the diversity of opinion because we are responsible for anyone who’s not a Roman Catholic. I don’t know if it’s always appreciated by Roman Catholics how different the different Reformed traditions may be and it seems to me that its not beyond the wit of people to say, yes the predominant ethos is X but that doesn’t mean that within that you can’t accomplish a great deal more. In other words, you can have a predominant ethos that is perhaps Church of Ireland, Roman Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian-whatever, but that doesn’t mean that the vast bulk of religious teaching cannot be done within that community. The bits that are different shouldn’t matter and shouldn’t have to be taught in the school.
I think one of the things we’ve missed out on today, we’ve done a little bit of, is where you move beyond the predominantly Christian view. Paul obviously talked about the difference but in the future we are going to have to have a much broader view of education than just Christian education in this country and if we’re not ready for it, then the shambles of Dunboyne is going to be nothing compared with what will happen in other schools, because we’ll have a much stronger Islamic tradition, a much stronger Hindu tradition and a much more powerful traditions that know nothing of Christian tradition and we should be ready to deal with that properly.
Chair: “I’ll take the next two questions together”.
Q. 2. Re dispute at Dunboyne interdenominational gaelscoil: “I am a Catholic parent of a Church of Ireland child in the Dunboyne school…. We’ve chosen to raise our children in the Church of Ireland tradition. I have questions once specifically for Bishop Clarke and one for John Carr:
To Bishop Clarke: “If this were a Catholic school, the local Catholic bishop would be the patron. He would determine the ethos of the school…If it were a Church of Ireland school, you would be the patron in this diocese, and you would be the person seen to have the responsibility of determining the ethos of the school. It is an inter-denominational school, with the stated denominations being Church of Ireland and other Protestants and Roman Catholic
Interjection from audience: “No it’s just Church of Ireland and Roman Catholic…”
Chair: “I’m sorry – if you could just stick to the question..”
Questioner. “To what extent, if at all, can you be satisfied, as the patron of the Church of Ireland faith in this diocese, that the interests and requirements of faith and doctrine of Church of Ireland children in this school can be looked after, or defined, or catered for, in circumstances where there are no members of the Church of Ireland on the patron body or the Board of Management?
To John Carr: “In a circumstance where you quite passionately said that the teachers were the people caught in the crossfire … but once you are given the direction you will “enthusiastically and evangelically” follow it. In circumstances where the headmaster of our school is being dismissed by the Board of Management and the sanction of the patron body is sought, because he has spoken out against a Board of Management, who sought to implement an agreed policy within the school, agreed by the Board of Management and the parents which got us over this hurdle…in those circumstances if he is dismissed, this is such an issue for the future and for the INTO, can you tell us whether or not you, as head of the INTO, will bring your organisation out on strike in support of Tomas O Dulaing?
John Carr: “Do you want me to answer that now?”
Chair: “We will just wait for the second question before taking answers”.
Q. 3: Re inter-denominational gaelscoil at Dunboyne:
To John Carr: “What sort of a timeframe should be allowed for the Foras Patrunachta to define the ethos of our school? In 1996, the first [interdenominational] gaelscoil was established in Wicklow. In May 2001 I received a letter from … the secretary of An Foras Patrunachta saying the ethos of the interdenominational school would be Catholic and Protestant. He sought a meeting with all six inter-denominational schools to decide this ethos, to come to a general agreement which all schools could support each other on. …It’s taken about six years and the definition is still Catholic and Protestant. How long do we have to wait for a definition of the inter-denominational school? How long do we have to work until we receive a definition of the interdenominational school?
To Fr. Kelly: “I want to refer to Fr.Kelly here who spoke about a Catholic school that opens its arms to “pupils of any faith or none”, children were welcome “as the flowers of May”. We celebrated recently First Communion in our school, the Church of Ireland child did not participate in the sacrament of Communion… and on one such occasion, the Catholics were sent to school on Tuesday and the Church of Ireland child was kept at home from school until lunch time because he couldn’t participate, and on the day the children went to the church to receive the unblessed bread, the child had to spend the whole morning in the church, crying… I’m just wondering – we talked about no child should feel left out. John Carr spoke about accommodating difference, how can we accommodate this child?
Replies to questions 2 and 3
Bishop Richard Clarke: “A very brief answer to the first question – I can’t know whether it is, because I have had no involvement whatsoever in drawing up the ethos. The only thing I would say to that: I was, I think, one of the first people who asked for a discussion on the whole distinctions between denominational, inter-denominational, multi-denominational, non-denominational, because there is such confusion. Because sometimes we use the same word for two different things, so in fact I would certainly support John Carr in this. I think it was Holy Week that I asked for that just when the Dunboyne thing was beginning – that we must have a widespread forum which I hope would include all the traditions and those of no tradition; those who are avowed atheists should also be part of that discussion.
John Carr: “Chair, you’ll appreciate I was aware in coming here tonight that my responsibility was to protect the livelihood of my members, and that it was a very, very thin line for me to come here, and therefore I do not intend to enter into discussions about any individual person’s livelihood and I hope you will respect that. That it is my responsibility to safeguard the livelihood of each and every teacher and I will do everything in my power, with persuasion, with behind the scenes and whatever I can to try to resolve this particular issue…
Questioner: Would it include industrial action?
John Carr:. “It may include a lot more than industrial action. Industrial action is the easy way out and industrial action is a failure of negotiations and I’m a believer in negotiations. I’m not shirking the question. We’ll take whatever action there is, I don’t want to be taking action when there is a livelihood gone. I want to take action before the livelihood goes and I’m doing everything in my power – I just want to give that assurance to you – to protect the livelihood of our members. But there are procedures there and, like anybody, those of you in the audience who are lawyers will understand, that you have to go through these procedures and there are sub judice issues and I don’t want to go into that, but that’s not shirking the issue.
Re question 3: “It’s a fair question. …the Foras has given what they consider to be their definition of inter-denominational religious ethos and the delivery of a programme in that context. Now I have stated quite clearly tonight that I believe that there are practical difficulties in the delivery of that programme in the way that it is suggested to be delivered within a school context, but there is a facilitation process underway and perhaps there may be some solution to it that I’m not aware of.
I was a principal of an 18-19 teacher school myself and I appreciate that there are difficulties in the delivery of a programme in an inter-denominational ethos and I would like to see that issue resolved. There are two denominations involved from a Church point of view – there’s a Roman Catholic and then there are the traditions that the Bishop raised there – the traditions of the Methodist, Presbyterian, Church of Ireland, and it is my view that this is a new type of school. None of us knows where it came from, there was no prior consultation, I’ve spoken to people from both denominations and more, and nobody seems to know where this started.
“All I’m saying now is there are difficulties here and let’s come together and try to resolve them, and I think the Churches have a responsibility as well in themselves to do something about this and not to allow it to go the way it is going. Because here you have a lay group laying down the definition and saying that it has to be denominational, whereas the denominations who drew up the programmes – the Roman Catholic and Church of Ireland – they’ve had no involvement in this at all and I find that unacceptable. And I think that we’ve all got to come together, and I appreciate what you’re saying. You’re talking years since this emerged and I’ve been dealing with it since I became General Secretary. But all I can give as a guarantee is that we will do everything in our power to try to get a solution to the question of the delivery of a programme in the context of an inter-denominational ethos.
Question from audience: “But has what you’ve tried so far worked? Is that not the responsibility of the INTO?”
John Carr: “No, I do not intend sitting here and taking criticism of the INTO. I do my business in protecting the livelihoods of our members in the way that we consider best. There are procedures laid down and negotiated with our patron bodies and our management authorities and we follow them, to use the pun, “religiously”. In this occasion we will follow them right to the bitter end and I’m hopeful, and if anybody here has influence tonight, I’m hopeful that we can come to … a solution in relation to this particular case rather than a dismissal”.
Q. 4 [from a deputy principal of a multi-denominational school in Dublin]:
Re Dunboyne dispute: “I don’t think this meeting would have happened had it not been, number one, David Trimble calling us a “mono-ethnic society” – and I noticed that no politicians have given an answer to that – and, two, that the principal, Tomas O Dulaing, who happens to be here tonight, has been threatened to be dismissed because he’s standing for the rights of a minority group. If you look back on our society, everything has changed because of people making a stand or because of court cases. If you talk about contraception, … about tax laws, the challenge by Mrs. Sinnott down in Cork to get education for her child – it had to be taken to the court. Tom’s situation is only a symptom of the diversity that has come …. And might I say to Tom, he’s the only one that has the rights of the children at heart and I admire him for that. [applause]. He was right.”
Multi-denominational schools: “99% of our schools are religious in ethos. I’ll tell you how our school started. I started three years ago in a community centre, where parents came in every day and brought up the furniture and we as teachers and parents shifted the furniture out every evening and it had to be done in a particular way, because if you didn’t stack the chairs in a certain way, they didn’t fit. We started with thirty-three children, the parents stayed with us; we couldn’t get planning permission to extend our school. We then shifted our school to Castleknock; we got temporary accommodation from the Department of Education. We went from two teachers to four teachers. … We can now get two new teachers in. We are growing; the demand out there is phenomenal. We had two parents in last week who were absolutely desperate to get away from the religious ethos of schools. Religion in our schools is taken very seriously. It has been so educational for me to listen and to hear their stories; we’ve twenty-five different cultures in our school. To listen to their stories, to listen to their cultures, to be able to address their religions, to treat them as people, it’s absolutely fantastic.
“The children in our school made their First Holy Communion last week. The school was made available to children after school. They made their Communion and they came into the school in their First Holy Communion dresses. There is a child being christened in the school in another faith this week and she will go around the class-rooms and talk about her experiences……
Changing patronage: “My question is to any of the people on the panel – has there been an experience with any of you, that you’ve ever had to withdraw the patronage from that school? Has it ever been a situation in a school where maybe the ethos has changed, and maybe if the patrons have said “well if the parents want to go down this road, well we find we can’t continue our patronage of this school and will have to withdraw” – has this ever happened?”
Chair: “I’ll take another question first.”
Q. 5: To Kevin Williams [from a teacher in Dunshaughlin Community School]: My question hasn’t got anything to do with any of the previous questions. …Is there a change in the teacher training that’s going to make teachers better able to cope with the multi-ethnic, multi-cultural school?
Chair: “Good question.”
Replies to questions 4 and 5.
Bishop Clarke: [Re changing patronage]: “The answer to that question is no”.
John Carr: “Schools have changed ethos from a denominational to a multi-denominational school-that has happened, but patronage has not actually been withdrawn.”
Paul Rowe: “John is right. The Ranelagh multi-denominational school was a Columban Church of Ireland national school, a two-teacher school. It was losing numbers as a Church of Ireland school and the parents got together and spoke to Educate Together at the time and went to the Archbishop of Dublin and it was agreed that the patronage was transferred. As part of that particular deal the two teachers’ contracts were retained. This is something which Educate Together is particularly concerned about.
Patronage: “To answer some of these questions in a slightly different way, we seem to have a big problem with this concept of patronage and it’s a uniquely Irish concept. It was based on…the idea was that the landlord would be the patron and the schools would actually be bi-denominational or inter-denominational schools. That’s where it came from. How we’ve tried to address it is that the powers of the patron should be clearly written down. The ethos of the school should be a simple stand-alone document, which is clear and transparent for everybody to see and should be legally binding. In our schools this is what it is, it’s a statement of legal rights and commitments. Everybody gets it on going to the school.
“The other thing is that the process of the powers of patronage must be subject to democratic review. We’re living in a changing society and school communities change and yet we’re stuck with this very rigid hierarchical structure. What we’ve done is to insert a company limited by guarantee into that hierarchy which is fundamentally a democratic structure. A certain number of members can call an emergency general meeting and change policy. The board of directors is elected every year. This means that that whole process of the power of patronage becomes amenable to flexible change and the evolution of the school community. It’s worked extremely well for us, we think it should be looked at.
Bishop Clarke: “But surely patronage is subject to the Minister for Education so therefore you are part of a Parliamentary process …. Because, if you were to use your powers as patron, you’re subject to the Minister. That’s my understanding of it.
Paul Rowe: “One of the fundamental aspects of Irish education is that the State has been totally reluctant to interfere in the areas of patronage. What I’m describing is: I represent 16 patrons, and I think the Catholic Church has 26 patrons. We have individual patrons for individual schools rather than a patron for an entire diocese. So the state recognises the patron and under the Education Act for the first time. We got a remarkable letter recently saying “could you please tell us the schools that you’re patron of?” They didn’t have a list before the Education Act. So the State recognises the patron but the carrying out of the functions of the patron is entirely at the discretion of this structure, which used to be, and in the denominational system still is, the local bishop. In our case what we have found remarkably successful is the forming of a legal charity, a company limited by guarantee has been an immeasurably strong structure to allow first of all a set of legal commitments and allowing the democratic evolution of the school community and the exercise of those commitments. As I’ve said it worked well for us. I would recommend it to anybody. One of the more interesting things in the last five years is the number of religious bodies that have approached us looking for our experience in using this company limited by guarantee method, whilst they are themselves withdrawing their personnel from the direct role of patronage.
Re training of teachers:
Dr. Kevin Williams: “I deal almost exclusively with the preparation of teachers for second level teaching but with the introduction of religion as an examination subject, it’s become absolutely necessary as part of the curriculum not only to prepare student teachers to engage in catechesis but to prepare them to teach religion as an examination subject. This is one of the tragedies really about the situation at primary level that you don’t have that comfortable division between catechesis and religion as an examination subject, religion just as a subject of academic study.
Good practice: “A second strand is, as a teacher of philosophy and education, I do quite an amount of work on the notion of good practice, this notion raised by former minister Niamh Breathnach with regard to the kind of respect, responsiveness and sensitivity required on the part of individual teachers to young people who don’t subscribe to the religious belief of the school.
CSPE: “A third strand as well is with regard to preparing student teachers to teach CSPE where the spirit of CSPE is not completely different to the spirit of RE. There’s considerable overlap, but it is very much oriented towards preparing student teachers to deal with young people in a non-monocultural Ireland.
Chair: “Thank you very much. Really I think we’re going to have to limit the questions because the panel have been here a very long time. I’ll take quick questions from four people who have been trying to get in…”
Q.6 [comment on debate so far]: “I’m disappointed the way you left one group hijack the meeting, in my opinion. Because I felt they are a mono-ethnic, mono-cultural society… they have a problem with diversity in instruction in my opinion…. I felt the whole evening move away from a potentially good debate on the issues. I thought myself that it would embrace the influx of foreigners that we are experiencing and not only problems of land and religion. I love Bishop Clarke there trying to drag us by the tail to examine the problems of dealing with foreigners, on Hinduism and other religions…. I have no question, but a statement, sorry, that you let it be hijacked by one group, it seems to have been organised by the principal, vice-principal and some parents….
Q.7 [re media]: “Do the panellists think, in terms of the various ethoi, that the tidal wave of destructive media advertising, the depersonalising nature of much of the advertising, do these school boards not feel an imperative to come out forefront that they need to have a much bigger say in public service broadcasting and how it is attempting to destroy any moral or ethical basis which society needs for the future?”
Q.8 [re Dunboyne dispute and media]: “… I’d just like to address Father Kelly. You made some wonderful aspirations, and they are wonderful aspirations. You talked about shared dialogue. Unfortunately we have tried all this in Dunboyne and the only option left was the media. I know you’ve said that we should try and get together away from the media, but only for the media, Tomas O Dulaing would long since have been thrown out – this was our only recourse. The shared dialogue you’re talking about is wonderful, but in our case it didn’t work and it didn’t work because we simply weren’t listened to…so really something else you need to address are the safeguards.
Q. 9 [from a Drogheda primary teacher re celebration of sacraments]: “My question is about the sacraments, why sacraments represent such a flashpoint or such an obstacle to closer cooperation to us appreciating diversity… I was at a Church of Ireland confirmation recently – they were Church of Ireland children and I attended the celebration and, having taught fifth and sixth class Confirmation for the previous twenty years, I was astounded at the fact that there were six words in the difference between the two celebrations and I’m just wondering as to why there is such tension………
Replies to questions 6-9:
Fr. Frank Kelly: [re Dunboyne dispute]: “I don’t think that a man coming from a north Co. Longford town should presume to pontificate on all that’s happened in Dunboyne. I don’t know enough about Dunboyne. The general observation that I would make about it is that before the school was set up this kind of situation should have been anticipated and regulated for. It’s outrageous that it wasn’t, quite honestly. I don’t think that you can go on and on and hope that it would solve itself by hopping and trotting. There should have been a clear mandate in advance that people would follow and then nobody would have had any trouble unless it wasn’t being followed.
As for the inter-personal relationships involved I’m afraid I simply have to claim privilege. I couldn’t dare to speak on it – it would be entirely out of order for me to do so. I’m sorry for anybody who gets caught in the crossfire. My experience of schools, over 25 years of trying to help out my own diocese, is that when a dissention arises in a school, its virtually impossible. It’s like a bog fire – you quench it in one spot and it starts in another. Its almost impossible to do, I quake at the idea. … I’m involved in a couple of them.
You solve it tonight and tomorrow night it’s up in flames again. It’s down to the fact that attitudes are entrenched and people can be quite difficult and quite intractable. The application, brisk or otherwise, of right reason isn’t always a help.
Bishop Richard Clarke:
Re the sacraments: “I think the answer is I haven’t the faintest idea of why there should be so much problems. I think in ten years time the number of people who give a rap about any of the sacraments will be a tiny minority in this country and therefore I think we’re “fiddling while Rome burns”. We’re certainly fiddling while something burns. The differences could be explained to a child on the back of an envelope in about ten minutes flat – they don’t constitute the core of Christian discipleship; they are simply different emphases and different nuances. Oddly enough, the main problem is being a practical one. One tradition has the idea that children receive Communion earlier than the other, and as far as I can judge that’s what a lot of the problem has been circulating around. I say that, but I do think that a vast amount of exaggeration is put into the differences between different churches because of the culture of this country whereby you have a sharp division -Protestants and Catholics. I think if people actually studied what we’re about, they’d see the divisions were a great deal less than they are and they could certainly say, yes, there are differences, they may be important differences, but in the context of Christian discipleship, they are splitting hairs. I think the big problem has been practical rather than anything to do with doctrine. This is my own honest feeling.”
Re media and public broadcasting: “If we went on long enough, I think we’d have this thing resolved here! ….On the question of public broadcasting and the challenge to our cultural, educational, moral, religious, social, linguistic and spiritual values – that is something that is a major issue in our society where there is a media driven – I wouldn’t call it campaign – where they’re challenging our values and our traditions.
Re Dunboyne dispute: “I again apologise; one of the reasons that I elected to come here tonight was that maybe Dunboyne would have featured and it might be hijacked, and in that contest I was reluctant to come, but on the other hand I wanted to come here. I’d just like to say that there is another side of this coin and that is this: parents of Dunboyne approached the patron and asked the patron that they would ask to establish a school in Dunboyne. They have that right, they asked for a particular ethos and, whether we agree with it or don’t agree with it, and whether we have difficulties now or not, they asked for that and as a result the patron laid down and defined the ethos and we respect that right. There is no difficulty with the right, what we are saying though is that there are difficulties in implementation and all we’re saying is that we want people to sit down with us and try to resolve those difficulties. And perceived or otherwise, they … may not be as pronounced and maybe that’s for a facilitation process, but we always reserve the right of the patron in an Irish context, and as a teacher here I don’t determine who owns the schools. I want to be involved with those who run the schools and then, from a teacher’s point of view, I want to insure that our teachers are in a position to teach a programme that is agreed between all the parties. And regrettably it should have been done in advance rather than the way it was done.
Re sacraments: “But as one who taught Communion, it’s not the back of an envelope, it is weeks and weeks of preparation that take time. It’s a whole ethos if you like, or a characteristic spirit – it’s not just about the actual day itself, so I don’t think it’s as simple as that. At the end of the day we may be able to peel away the layers and we’ll find that this matter will be resolved.
Re Dunboyne dispute: “I’m asking for two things: one is I think the media has done harm rather than helped this particular case. That’s my own honest opinion. But so be it, they may come in down the line but they certainly are no help in an individual case where a person is in the situation he’s in. The media have added to the problem but that’s a different issue. All I’m saying tonight is appealing to everybody who has influence, both at management level, at parent level at patron levels, at denominational levels – that all of us should try everything in our power to resolve this particular case and bring it to a satisfactory conclusion. That should be our united message on leaving here. All of us, irrespective of what group you belong to.
Paul Rowe: Re Dunboyne dispute: “Just in passing, I would studiously try and avoid any reference to the Dunboyne situation. People from that particular environment will know that I’ve done my bit to try and assist in that situation and I don’t think any comments I make will be helpful at this stage.
Re media and public broadcasting: “To answer the question with respect to the threats to our values and culture…. We are living in a diversifying world, in a diversifying society. We’ve been talking about education and religion. We’ve got to face the fact that historically religions in schools were instruments of social control, and they have come across a fundamental flowering in our society of human rights and of the human spirit questioning and absorbing new inferences from the media from the internet, from travel, the fact that we can go and visit other countries now so easily, which we couldn’t when I was growing up. It is fundamental to education that this is a fantastic resource for our children and it’s something that we should…the fact that people think differently from us, I mean it’s a huge educational resource. If we can get the structure right, if we can build the education system on the basis of respect for the rights of all participants – the children, parents and the teachers – and place the natural place of religion in it’s natural place which is in the religious institutions and the family – then there are massive benefits for us as a society and as a people and which will enrich our identity and won’t be a threat.
Advantages of multi-denominational schools: “All of the questions on the multi-denominational issue, we have grappled with in the multi-denominational sector for the last twenty years. I want to just appeal to the professionals here to look at that history, to look at that experience. As John says and as John knows, we are not people who are putting forward a super solution without having learned all the hard lessons. I mean you don’t go to a doctor who only treats healthy children. So what I would appeal to you, raising the question in what appears to be this fragmented world in which teenagers are rebellious and are speaking their minds in ways which we would find in many times distasteful, in that environment there are huge advantages for society if we can cherish that outpouring of the human spirit as educators and to draw it out and to get out of this situation that a school is there as an instrument of an organisation of social control. It should be there to empower the rights of the people who go into it and flourish their human spirit. Once we’ve placed the preservation of the doctrine outside the main school programme, it gives it that freedom, and it gives the people involved in the school, and the children and teachers involved in that school, a true reflection of their human rights and their identity and that’s really what the debate should be about rather than the very complex issues in a particular school in Dunboyne. I would hope people would familiarise themselves with that.
Fr.Frank Kelly: “ I’m not entirely sure that religions in school were an instrument of social control.”
Paul Rowe: “I was talking about historically”
Fr.Frank Kelly: “Well historically is not correct.
Concluding words: Barbara Sweetman FitzGerald: “Before thanking the speakers, can I just speak as a parent? This brings me back to when I was a lone parent of six children all at different schools. And it was a nightmare trying to get around to all the parent-teacher meetings, but the daughter who went to the totally non-denominational school is the one who meditates every day, and the five year old came back from school one day and said “Mummy what am I – am I a Protestant or a Catholic?” and I said “Ah, Timmy, don’t you know you’re a Catholic?” and he says “oh f—- ! I didn’t even know he knew the word. It meant he couldn’t sing in the choir in the local church. He then went on to a Catholic school where he couldn’t get an answer on transubstantiation that satisfied him. He has now become a member of the Church of Ireland. So I think we all just try to do our best, and we do what we can for our children and hope they will retain the values that we have and tried to pass on to them. I would like to thank Julitta and the members of the Meath Peace Group for inviting me to chair what I think you will all agree was a very stimulating evening, with many thanks to all the speakers for making it so.”
Meath Peace Group Talk. June 2002. Compiled by Julitta Clancy and Sarah Clancy. Taped by Oliver Ward and John Keaveney. Edited by Julitta Clancy
©Meath Peace Group
Biographical Notes on Speakers and Chair:
John Carr is General Secretary of the INTO, representing 27,000 teachers in the 32 counties of Ireland. After qualifying from St. Patrick’s College, Drumcondra, he taught in Belgrove Junior Boys N.S. in Clontarf where he was appointed principal teacher. He was an active teacher representative at local level before becoming a full-time official of the INTO which he has served as Education Officer and General Treasurer. As Education Officer he oversaw the publication of 25 major Education Policy Statements and represented the INTO on the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment. He has written widely on the area of teacher professionalism and advocates that teachers take professional control of their enterprise and become the authoritative voice in education.
Dr. Richard Clarke has been Church of Ireland Bishop of Meath and Kildare since 1996. He is a graduate of Dublin and London universities in history and theology respectively, and holds a doctorate from the former in liturgics. He has served as chaplain of Trinity College Dublin and Dean of Cork and was also chair of the advisory group for a new Religious Education curriculum for Church of Ireland national schools. He is the author of a book on Christian apologetics And Is It True?
Fr. Frank Kelly, P.P., Granard, was ordained in 1964, and taught in St. Mel’s Secondary School, Longford from 1964-1974. From 1974 to 1986 he served as curate in Banagher and as chaplain in several secondary schools. He was appointed parish priest of Granard in 1988 and was involved in the management of primary education at the time of the foundation of boards of management. He was the Ardagh and Clonmacnoise representative on the Catholic School Managers’ Association, which he chaired for 7 years (until 2001), and has also been a member of Longford VEC for the past 10 years. His interests are in education, local history and community.
Paul Rowe, vice-Chair of Educate Together, has been involved with Educate Together schools for the past 14 years – as a parent, activist, board member and national representative. He was elected Chairperson of Educate Together on its transformation into a limited company in 1998, and was re-elected annually since.
Barbara Sweetman FitzGerald, Executive Director of the Irish Association from 1987-1999, Barbara was awarded a CBE for her work in the area of reconciliation in 2002. She is currently a director of Oxfam Ireland, Executive Committee member of the British Irish Association, member of the Ireland Funds Advisory Committee Assessment Panel and member of the World Games Special Olympics 2003 (Ireland) Northern Ireland Fund-Raising Committee. Past associations include membership of the Finance Committee of the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, and the Irish Red Cross Golden Jubilee Fund-Raising Committee. She was also a board member of both the ESB and the Irish Architectural Archive
Dr. Kevin Williams is Head of Education at the Mater Dei Institute, Dublin and a past-president of the Educational Studies Association of Ireland. He is author-editor of several books (including The Future of Religion in Irish Education co-edited with P. Hogan) and he has also published many articles on philosophical and educational issues in Irish and international journals. Most recent books include the jointly edited collection Words Alone: The Teaching and Usage of English in Contemporary Ireland, and Why Teach Foreign Languages in Schools: A Philosophical Response to Curriculum Policy. His current research interest is in identity and allegiance in civic life with particular reference to concepts of nationhood and internationalism. The Mater Dei Institute of Education is a college of Dublin City University specialising in the training of teachers of religion and in the training of chaplains.