The President in Lourdes - Decisions we can’t dodge much longer

OVER recent weeks we have all heard how a school principal asked the Government for guidance on whether a Muslim girl attending his school should be allowed wear, as her parents wished, the Hijab in class.

It was reported how these requests were met with either silence or buck passing with a speed that would have made Tomás O’Leary’s very best efforts at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday seem laboured.

Indeed, the previous minister ridiculously suggested that each and every state school should formulate its own policy. Ms Hanafin’s successor, Batt O’Keeffe, has promised that the Government will consider issuing guidelines when it drafts an intercultural education strategy later this year. This response leaves lots of wriggle room and amounts to very little indeed. However, it is as much as can be expected in a society that is far happier washing its hands of these difficult issues rather than taking the hard decisions that will inevitably make some people unhappy.

Whether our government is in a position to control the use of religiously significant clothing in the classroom is brought into question by the presence, in an official capacity, of President Mary McAleese and senior defence force officers, at celebrations in Lourdes over the weekend. President McAleese was there with 500 members of the defence forces to mark the 50thInternational Military Pilgrimage to the French town.

If they were there in a private capacity the event would not warrant the slightest comment but that they were there, as our head of State, and in the full uniform of this Republic’s defence forces, may no longer be appropriate in an increasingly irreligious and diverse society. If we are to respect all traditions and religions equally it may be time to review the impulses that shaped a “Catholic State for a Catholic people.”

These difficult issues need to be resolved quickly unless we are to ignite, once again, those dreadful conflicts based on religious difference that have done so much to make our history as bloody and divisive as it is.

Whatever decision we reach it will have an impact far outside the classroom. We can no longer dodge these issues. Neither can we pretend that is just about dress codes for Muslim schoolgirls.


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