O’Keeffe to meet Protestant school representatives

Education Minister Batt O'Keeffe is due to meet representatives of Protestant secondary schools today to discuss cutbacks announced in last year's budget.

Education Minister Batt O'Keeffe is due to meet representatives of Protestant secondary schools today to discuss cutbacks announced in last year's budget.

The fee-paying schools have mounted a concerted campaign against Mr O'Keeffe's decision to cut government funding for their facilities.

Yesterday, the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin Dr John Neill accused the Department of Education of mounting a "determined and doctrinaire" effort to undermine Protestant schools.

Dr Neill claimed schools would only be able to survive by charging excessive fees, excluding the community they were founded to serve in the process.

Fee-paying Protestant schools have also faced an increase in the pupil-teacher ratio to 20 pupils to one teacher, compared to 19 to one in other secondary schools.

However, speaking in the Dáil, Mr O'Keeffe said the Attorney General had advised that continuing to give grants to Protestant schools while denying them to Catholic schools would be unconstitutional.

Earlier today the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin also put his weight behind calls not to cut funding to Protestant schools.

“Without the Protestant communities and without their schools I believe pluralism in Ireland would be poorer,” Archbishop Martin said.

“We’re at the same time today trying to address the new renewed pluralism in Irish education which all of us realise needs new answers, and we have to do that at a time in which other people are there snipping back at expenditure.

“We have to make sure that the economic difficulties don’t allow that long-term interests and public interests are damaged.”

Archbishop Martin told RTÉ radio he was not aware of any possible legal action by his church or Catholic schools which could have provoked the situation.

“I’ve never heard anyone in the Catholic Church comment negatively on the need to preserve the ethos of the Protestant minority in Ireland,” he said.

“I think its Utopian to think that we’ll ever have a single school model. We will always have in Ireland, and the constitution provides and foresees that, a variety of types of education.”

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