The Church of Ireland’s General Synod has been warned of the danger that the Republic of Ireland might be looking at “the Last of the Anglicans” by the end of this century.
The stark warning came from Michael Hall (Elphin and Ardagh), as he proposed the report of the Board of Education, warning that proposed changes to school admissions policies in the Republic of Ireland would “fundamentally undermine” Protestant primary and secondary schools and could remove the very purpose for their existence.
Mr Hall – the headmaster of Sligo Grammar School – said that the proposed Admissions to Schools Bill had been a topic of much discussion. It was interesting, he noted, that the Minister for Education and Skills chose the offices of Equate – “a special interest lobby group” – from which to announce a 12-week consultation period on school admissions.
Mr Hall outlined Minister Richard Bruton’s four options in relation to school admissions: the removal of the Equal Status Act 2000 section 7(3) (c); the introduction of the “nearest school” rule; the introduction of a “defined catchment” area; and the introduction of a “quota system” based upon religious denomination.
The headmaster forecast that all of the suggestions would impinge negatively on Church of Ireland primary and secondary schools. “Indeed, it is the Board’s belief that the proposed changes have the potential to fundamentally undermine the Church Of Ireland, Methodist, Presbyterian, Society Of Friends, Patronage Body schools at both Secondary and Primary level to serve the Protestant population in the Republic of Ireland, thus removing the very purpose for their existence,” he stated.
Mr Hall said that to provide equality for a minority population required additional and enhanced funding and support beyond that provided to the majority population. “Positive affirmation of a minority has proven extremely beneficial to the development of equality throughout the world. We do not ask for more funding than other schools, we are asking for the same along with equivalence of respect without discrimination,” he stated. “Otherwise there is a danger that the Republic of Ireland might be looking at ‘the Last of the Anglicans’ by the mid- to end of this century.”
During the debate on the Republic of Ireland section of the report, Canon John Clarke (Meath and Kildare) said Synod should send out a clear message to the Minister of Education and Skills and his department that the proposed changes to school admissions were not acceptable.
The Archdeacon of Raphoe, Ven David Huss, said that the Minister’s proposals would not create one extra primary school place and did not solve the problem. He said that in Donegal, Church of Ireland schools presented the inclusive option for many parents.
The Board’s report was accepted by Synod.
(Photograph: By Church of Ireland)