Bishop: O’Keeffe making Ireland hostile for Protestants

A LEADING Protestant Bishop has accused the Education Minister of making Ireland a hostile place for the children of the Protestant minority.

Church of Ireland Bishop of Cork, Paul Colton also contradicted Batt O’Keeffe’s version of the dispute over funding for Protestant schools.

Mr O’Keeffe told the Dáil on Tuesday that he could not continue extra grants of €2.8m to fee-paying Protestant schools because it was unconstitutional.

“In the history of this state, traditionally, Protestants have kept their heads down. They’re not keeping their heads down on this one,” Bishop Colton said.

“This is a problem the minister has created. He has the purse strings.”

Bishop Colton is the latest leading Protestant clergyman to publicly criticise the minister on the controversial funding issue.

Despite the minister’s assertion that he had no contact with the Protestant bishops on the issue, Bishop Colton said the Bishops of the Church of Ireland took the unprecedented step of writing to the minister on March 2 asking him to reinstate the grants.

On May 7, he said he was joined by Canon John McCullagh in a “long and rambling” discussion with senior Department of Education officials during which they again restated their position on the grants issue.

Bishop Colton said it is obvious the minister has chosen not to hear their view.

“He hides behind secret advice about the document, not his alone, but the charter of the people of this country — our Constitution. Are we seriously tobelieve that the foundingfathers and framers of our Constitution envisaged a situation where this Republic would become a hostile place for the children of the Protestant minority?

“Our proposal is this and for clarity I state it, yet again, publicly. We want our schools, in their uniquely difficult situation, restored to parity with schools in the free scheme, where they have been since free education was introduced 42 years ago.”

But Mr O’Keeffe strongly rejected the bishop’s claims. He said the budgetary changes have resulted in the loss of grants to all schools and that the increased pupil-teacher ratio for private fee-paying schools has affected Catholic schools as well.

Following another meeting between the side last week, the minister said he asked the Protestant schools and bishops to commit to further talks and to identify areas of difficulty.

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