The law that allows schools fire or refuse to employ a teacher for being gay could become history under plans announced by Education Minister Ruairi Quinn.
He told the Teachers Union of Ireland congress in Wexford that he was fulfilling a Programme for Government commitment to remove discriminations against gay teachers in employment equality law, that can prevent them from teaching in religious-run schools.
The Employment Equality Act allows religious-run workplaces exemption from its anti-discrimination provisions in order to protect their ethos.
But teacher unions and other groups representing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people (LGBT) have been campaigning for a number of years to have the offending section removed. Fianna Fáil Senator Averil Power has published a draft bill that would allow such a move to take place.
Mr Noonan said he is determined to achieve progress on it in the near future on an all-party basis, and he is in contact with Justice Minister Alan Shatter and Attorney General Máire Whelan with a view to publishing proposals in the coming weeks.
“The objective is to see if we can get the agreement to amend the legislation, without altering the thrust of the legislation and the status of patron bodies, that would provide new protection in employment terms for gay and lesbian teachers,” he said.
Patrick Hogan, chair of TUI’s equality council and a member of its LGBT group, said the minister has taken a big step in the right direction but it is important that the section is fully repealed.
“We still have colleagues working in schools or centres that are religious-run that they don’t feel able to come out and express their sexuality, out of fear they would lose their job or lose out on promotion,” he said.
“I’ve heard of one case where a person was taking leave for their own civil partnership but couldn’t even discuss it at work.”
The minister also told reporters his officials are planning a pilot assessment of second-level schools in around four towns, to examine the scope for sharing of buildings, other facilities and possibly staff.
The inventory is being carried out with a view to finding ways that limited resources could be spread among neighbouring schools, particularly at a time when schools are at risk of dropping subjects due to staffing cuts.
He said his department has never had a full inventory of all the buildings, labs or other facilities because most of these things are all kept on paper.
But he said, modern technology would be used to collate the information in future to allow better recording of the data for planning purposes.
Mr Quinn also announced a bursary scheme to replace a number of Department of Education scholarships, that will see 60 students this year receive €2,000 each based on best performance in the Leaving Certificate.
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