A Church of Ireland bishop claimed today that private school funding cuts were making the Irish Republic a hostile place for Protestant children.
As a divisive row over the axing of crucial grants deepened, Bishop of Cork Paul Colton accused the Government of brutality and financial back street butchery.
The senior cleric spoke out after Education Minister Batt O’Keefe said the Church hierarchy had failed to come up with alternatives to the Budget cuts.
“Are we seriously to believe that the founding fathers and framers of our Constitution envisaged a situation where this Republic would become a hostile place for the children of the Protestant minority?” the Bishop asked.
Protestant secondary schools – apart from the state’s five Protestant comprehensives – were removed from the free education scheme, after more than 40 years, last year.
Bishop Colton described the move as a sorry business.
And in an outspoken address to parents, teachers and students at Midleton College, Cork, he accused the Government of overseeing “brutality and financial back street butchery inflicted on Protestant schools in last year’s Budget”.
Under the move, ancillary grants considered critical to the private schools’ survival – such as caretaker and secretarial expenses – were ended.
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.
Mr O’Keefe said he had received legal advice from the attorney general that the grants scheme was unconstitutional. He also said the attorney general’s report was confidential.
“He hides behind secret advice about the document, not his alone, but the charter of the people of this country – our Constitution,” Bishop Colton said.
He also claimed a proposal has already been put to the Minister.
“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,” the Bishop said.
Earlier this week, the most senior Anglican in Ireland, Archbishop of Dublin Dr John Neill, claimed the cuts were not being driven by financial concerns.
Dr Neill claimed education chiefs were intent on punishing Protestant schools on an entirely wrong assumption that all pupils are from wealthy families.
The campaign to have the grants reinstated has been supported by Catholic Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin and Catholic think-tank the Iona Institute.