Thursday, October 18, 2007


This house believes that the Catholic Church holds an improper place in today’s society.
I agree.

In Ireland where the Catholic Church is entitled, like anyone else, to have influence it has a certain level of authority which I believe is quite improper. The main area I wish to focus on is Education but before I do I just want to make a few comments about its role in our Health Services.

I had talks in recent weeks with many organisations representing and working with women. These included Irish Family Planning Association, Well Woman Centre, Women’s Health Council, National Women’s Council, and Irish Council for Civil Liberties. I was particularly interested to hear of difficulties women had in accessing information, treatment or services in our hospitals because such information, treatment or services while perfectly legal, did not conform with a Catholic ethos.

I was very surprised to find that between all of these organisations they had almost no accounts of women experiencing the sort of difficulties I had anticipated. Whether this is because women are not experiencing difficulty or because they are not complaining to anyone about the difficulties they have had or because they are able to avail of such information, treatment or services elsewhere, I do not know.

There was the recent case here in Ireland, of a woman who was pregnant and was diagnosed with cancer. Her local hospital refused to treat her cancer because such treatment might have had detrimental effects on her pregnancy and this was not in keeping with the Catholic ethos of the hospital.

And at the Mater hospital in Dublin trials of a new cancer drug Tarceva were stopped because the trials contravened the Catholic ethos of the hospital by requiring the use of birth control.
I think that when people attend for treatment at hospitals they have paid for with their taxes, their treatment should be determined by their medical need not by the religious views of other people.

In London recently doctors and consultants at the Hospital of St John & St Elizabeth in north London were unhappy at a new code of ethics proposed by Cardinal Cormac Murphy which will prevent them offering any service that conflicts with Catholic teaching on the value of human rights.

The code will require doctors to refer any woman who inquires about contraception, the morning-after pill and abortion to another hospital and prevent the use of amniocentesis to detect Down's syndrome in unborn children and in vitro fertilisation for couples unable to conceive naturally.

The idea that the Catholic Church should have the authority to decide what treatments are available in hospitals where the public are paying for the services is hugely objectionable and improper.

I think there will be more public debate on this issue in due course particularly if we ever reach the stage where abortion is legalised in Ireland. It’s easy to imagine the Catholic Church then declaring “not in our hospitals”. That will surely be the time to ask “why are they your hospitals? What makes them your hospitals? – we’re paying for them.” Perhaps then the debate about Catholic Church patronage of publicly funded services will be extended from the area of education, where it has been recently, to the area of health.

Now I would like to deal more comprehensively with the Catholic Church’s role in Education in this country.....

There are approximately 3,280 national schools in the Irish Republic and about 3,032 of them are so called Catholic schools. These schools have, for the most part, been built by the taxpayer, are maintained by the taxpayer and the majority of the salaries of teachers working in the schools are paid by the taxpayer. But, amongst other reasons, because the land on which the schools are built is owned by one of the largest private landowners in the country, the Catholic Church, the schools are considered to be Catholic schools and as a result I believe the church’s authority in the area of education is hugely improper. And is up to the state to change it....
In a modern republican democracy the state should be responsible for all aspects in relation to the provision of schools and education for all Irish children and others in the care of the state. You would be forgiven for thinking the state is responsible but in actual fact there are many gaps. For example in a recent civil action taken by a woman who had been sexually assaulted as a child by her school principal, it was determined that the Minister for Education is this country has no legal responsibility for teachers whose salaries are paid by the Department of Education. This is because the department is not considered to be the employer of teachers in national schools. Despite paying the salaries of teachers and determining their terms and conditions of employment, the Department of Education is not the employer of teachers in this State.
In Ireland, for far too long, the state has failed to rise to its responsibilities in education in any meaningful way. Even now where the government has announced a pilot scheme in which the state, through the VEC, will control one primary school in Dublin 15, due to open in September 2008, it says it is looking to provide this type of alternative “where a traditional patron is not available”. This is far from the proactive stance that is required. The government should be actively working to provide parents with choice in relation to the type of school they send their children to. Indeed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) states that ‘Parents shall have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children’ – very difficult for parents to exercise this right when over 90% of schools are managed by the Catholic Church.

The current government maintains the position of keeping itself removed from its responsibilities by allowing the Catholic Church to manage schools, leaving local Boards of Management with the authority to sack teachers, whose lifestyles they may not approve of, but whose salaries they do not pay.

As we saw only last month school managers are allowed to ask to see children’s birth certificates and to give preference for school places to Catholic children. In the current education system, funded by the taxpayer, this is highly improper. There may be a case for such preference being shown in a society where there is great choice for parents in choosing the type of school to send their children to, and where there is great choice for teachers in deciding which type of school they want to teach in, but in Irish society today where well over 90% of our national schools are controlled by the Catholic church, this is not at all acceptable. Nor is it acceptable that all primary teacher training is conducted through colleges owned by religious institutions – where are the State’s teacher training facilities?

In an ideal world I would prefer to see all children educated in non-denominational schools leaving them free to learn about religion at home or in church. But I am also a firm believer of choice in as many areas of life as possible so let there be they religious schools, let there be private schools, but also let the government start providing education for our children in state schools on state land where the Department of Education takes full responsibility for all aspects of the education of the children and the management of the school and let them match the high standards of education as delivered by other patrons.

No more schools should be built by the state on land owned by the Catholic Church. It is not necessary for the state to purchase lots of land on which to start building new non/multi-denominational schools, we already own the so called Catholic schools, as I said earlier we built them and we maintain them.

The Catholic Church should hand over to the people of Ireland some of the schools currently under their patronage and this transfer should include ownership of the land on which the schools have been built. The Church’s Education Commission and the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Diarmuid Martin, have already expressed some interest in the patronage of schools changing hands but it should be remembered that neither the Commission nor the Archbishop constitute the Catholic Church in Ireland. There are many other bishops in the country running their dioceses with autonomy and parents having access to choice should not be dependent on the local bishop’s agreement.

However even those bishops who do agree with handing over some schools to alternative patrons have said there will be a price.

They want to be paid compensation:
Their request for compensation should be considered in the context of the huge compensation bill payable as a result of offences committed against children by members of the religious orders. Current estimates put the bill at €1.16 billion. In 2002 the government indemnified the religious orders against any further liability in exchange for a mere €127 million, with the bill for the remainder being handed to the taxpayer. In proper settlement of the compensation bill the government should revisit that deal and start the process of acquiring ownership of the land some of our schools are built on so that real progress can be made in providing parents with choice. There should be no question of the Catholic Church receiving any taxpayer’s money in this context. It should be done because it’s the right thing to do.

It should also be noted that the Church’s Education Commission said in their recently published document, Catholic Primary Schools – A Policy for Provision into the Future, that where schools were transferred out of Catholic patronage those new patrons should include Catholic religious instruction as part of the school curriculum. Religious education, where children learn about many different religions, is already part of the curriculum in multi-denominational schools but religious instruction in a particular religion is conducted after school hours and in accordance with parents’ wishes. When schools are transferred out of Catholic Church patronage, the curriculum of the schools is no longer any of their business and any attempts to exert such improper control in our schools should not be tolerated.

Taking some schools out of Catholic patronage would not solve the current problem but, coupled with a cessation of building new schools on Catholic Church land, it would be a very good place to start. Such schools would then be managed by the state or other patrons and the process of providing more choice for parents would be impressively advanced.

In addition to this, to further increase diversity, the government should increase its funding of Educate Together Schools. Educate Together aims to meet a growing need in Irish society for schools that recognise the developing diversity of Irish life and the modern need for democratic management structures. In particular, Educate Together guarantees children and parents of all faiths and none equal respect and equal access to education, including the operation and management thereof.

The Government would argue that it is providing funding for these schools but the level of funding is not meeting the level of demand and consequently Educate Together cannot offer as many places to children as are required by their parents who are seeking an alternative to schools offering education with a Catholic ethos.

So I am not arguing that there is no role for the Catholic Church in schools or in education, but at present its role is improper and the way forward is for the government to more fully embrace state run national schools and to increase funding for alternative patrons considerably....

I commend this motion etc....