Catholic group plays down school patronage reports

CATHOLIC Church representatives have said reports that up to 50% of Catholic schools will be transferred to other patrons under a new Government initiative are “way over the top”.

The Catholic Schools Partnership (CSP) expressed concern yesterday that reports of the 50% figure had raised fears that some Catholic schools might be forced to relinquish patronage against their will.

The CSP — which was established jointly by the Irish Bishops’ Conference and the Conference of Religious in Ireland — described the 50% figure which has been mentioned by Education Minister Ruairi Quinn as “way over the top.”

CSP executive chairperson Fr Michael Drumm said he believed that it would be quite substantial if only 10% of Catholic schools were transferred to other patrons.

However, he stressed that there was no correct figure as the circumstances of each individual school would need to be assessed separately.

Fr Drumm also said there should be “no rush” to transfer the patronage of schools, despite the fact that Mr Quinn indicated that the process could begin early next year.

Mr Quinn announced last week the establishment of the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism to examine the issue.

Almost 90% of 3,300 primary schools in the Republic are run by the Catholic Church. However, the Catholic hierarchy — most notably, the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin — has acknowledged that it needs to divest itself of some schools as the Catholic Church is over-represented in Irish education.

Launching a position paper by the CSP yesterday, Fr Drumm insisted that any decision on changing the patronage of any school must be taken at a local level. However, he added: “If sufficient demand for a school under different patronage can be demonstrated then all of the stakeholders should work in partnership towards this goal.”

Fr Drumm rejected any suggestion that religious education be regarded as “indoctrination”. He also dismissed as “almost laughable” any attempt to link religious education and sacramental preparations with a decline in literacy and numeracy levels.

Fr Drumm acknowledged that the future of small primary schools was a far more important issue to many parents that the issue of school patronage.

He also said the use of the phrases “inter-denominational” and “multi-denominational” in relation to schools was confusing.

Fr Drumm said there may also be legal issues surrounding the charitable status of trusts which currently oversee many Catholic schools and the transfer of resources in the event of a new patron being appointed.

The CSP said it is conducting its own research of the attitude of stakeholders to the proposed change of patronage of Catholic schools.

The results of such surveys will be analysed at four regional assemblies to be held in June from which the CSP would finalise its position on the transfer of patronage.

Education Minister Ruairi Quinn welcomed the CSP’s position paper and said it would form part of “an essential and informative debate within the education agenda”.



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