The Labour Party’s Ivana Bacik sounded indignant this morning – she’d gone to her local Catholic school to suggest that they change to a non-denominational school, thus allowing Ivana to send her child there in good conscience. “They said their ethos was important to them, and that they want to hold on to it”, she complained on RTE Radio 1’s Morning Ireland.
Imagine going to your local GAA club and asking them to change to a basketball or soccer club because that’s the sport you want your child to play! The comparison is not ridiculous – the GAA has what it has today because they were supported by ordinary Irish people in blood, sweat, tears – and money. When demand for and interest in other sports began to grow, other groups of Irish people got together to build up alternative clubs etc to meet this need. And now our children and young people in most towns can choose between Gaelic, hurling, rugby, soccer and maybe even a few other options. If a child has a more minority interest, parents may have to travel a little bit to access the training and facilities. No-one is demanding the GAA get off the pitch; no-one is indignant at the position of strength of the GAA had as compared with other sports.
There is obviously a need now for a wider range of choice in Irish school. This need has arisen relatively quickly with rapid changes in society, in values and in demographics, and so there is a lag that needs to be addressed in the availability of diversity in education. Groups of interested parents and educators are getting together to address this and things are changing. The Catholic Church itself has recognised this and offered to transfer patronage of some schools were the need arises – the key issue being parental choice.
However there should be an acknowledgement of why so many schools in Ireland are Catholic: because historically this is what the largely Catholic population wanted, and in many cases, still want. And because when Catholic children in Ireland were offered little or nothing by way of education, it was Catholic religious orders and the Catholic Church – priests and people – who stepped up to the plate. We’ve heard the horrifying stories about those supposedly Catholic teachers who betrayed the principles under which these schools were set up, but the fact remains that a huge amount of good was done. You might even think a little bit of appreciation would be in order?