From top: Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Dr James Reilly; UN Committee on the Rights of the Child members Gehad Madi, of Egypt, and Suzanne Aho Assouma, of Togo
Today members of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child are looking at Ireland’s record on children’s rights.
It’s been ten years since the committee last reviewed Ireland’s record.
This morning, Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Dr James Reilly spoke before the committee at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland and fielded questions in relation to school patronage.
At one point, one of the committee’s members, Suzanne Aho Assouma, from Togo, interrupted to as if Ireland plans to decriminalise abortion.
It’s understood Dr Reilly, and members of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, will reply to questions this afternoon when a second session gets under way at 2pm (Irish time).
From this morning’s session:
Dr James Reilly: “To reassure the committee, the Equal Status Act prohibit discrimination on nine grounds, namely gender, civil status, family status, sexual orientation, religion, age, race, membership of the Traveller community and disability. And the Employment Acts cover discrimination in the workplace and the Equal Status Act provides protection against discrimination in the provision of goods and services. And the legislation is designed to promote equality and prohibit discrimination in any form that it comes. So that applies in the general sense to both, to all people and also to Travellers and Roma.
In relation to the issue around patronage of the schools, I suppose it’s important to point out that our school system evolved from the religious orders themselves and so it’s not surprise that we have such a preponderance of denominational schools with 95 per cent of primary and 70 per cent of secondary schools of a denominational nature. But we are committed, as a Government, to move to a more pluralist system of patronage for our schools.
The report of the advisory group to the forum among patronage and pluralism in the primary sector, which was published in April 2012, recommended steps that could be taken to ensure that the education system can provide a sufficiently diverse number and range of primary schools to cater for all religions and none. And, as clear evidence that change is occurring, in relation to the ethos of newly provided schools to meet demographic need, since 2011 patronage and decisions have been made in respect of 45 new schools established to meet demographic need and all of these decisions have involved consultation with parents, as to the preferred type of school. Over 90 per cent of the new schools have a multi-denominational ethos.
So where demographic need does not exist the means of achieving pluralism in school choice is through a process of divestment of existing school patronage and this, I have to admit, is a slow process. But the Minister for Education has recently emphasised the importance of accelerating the process in that regard.
Can I just also say, I think it’s important, to point out that, we do have a much more pluralist society and a much more open society in Ireland. Now, there is one school I’m aware of in my own constituency where there’s 81 different nationalities attending that school.
So the issue is one of concern to us, that the patronage of our schools is lagging way behind the actuality of our education system which is, you know, the separation of state and church is clearly well defined. And secondly, the minister has also indicated that she’s going to repeal part of an act that dates from 1965 which states that religious education was the most important element of education in primary schools.”
Gehad Madi: “Thank you very much… The problem is implementation on the ground and we see that there is a big portion of people who would like to enrol their children in non-denominational education do not find the right school in their community, in their county, to do that.
And we understand, also, that religious education, I stand here to be corrected, is part of the curriculum of many schools. Is this the case? Because a student who does not participate in such lessons will have some problems in their grades or graduation. So I wanted to be clear on this issue, to help us better understand the information. And we do acknowledge that the process of transfer is being very slow. Thank you.”
Suzanne Aho Assouma: “Thank you. I haven’t yet had an answer concerning discrimination against boys because they’ve had sexual intercourse. I would like to also know what is being done to prevent stigmatisation of girls. Now on the abortion act, do you plan decriminalise abortion? And, in this regard, we believe that there is discrimination against pregnant girls who have to travel to another country in order to have an abortion. So we are asking why abortions cannot be carried out in Ireland? Is this for religious reasons? And I’d also like to know what happens to those girls who travel abroad to get an abortion? What happens if they haven’t got the necessary resources? What do they do in this case?”
Watch live (from 2pm) here
Meanwhile, back in Ireland…