Dáil debates

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Ceisteanna - Questions (Resumed)

Taoiseach's Meetings and Engagements

4:25 pm

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Cork South Central, Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

I ask the Taoiseach to revert to me on when he last met representatives of the churches as part of a structured dialogue. Will he also indicate the philosophical bodies to which he referred?

It is clear from my discussions with many parents and school representatives that resources, rather than patronage, are their main concern. Early in the lifetime of the Government an announcement was made that 50% of schools would change from religious patronage to other models of patronage. Of the 1,500 schools affected by this issue, only one, a Church of Ireland school in the Taoiseach's constituency, has changed its model of patronage. A great deal of time has been wasted and much doubt created on this issue. We would have greater diversity if the previous Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, had not taken such a confrontational and non-consultative approach to patronage, which was never a boiling issue on the ground. The issues continue to be resources, the viability of schools and the provision of supports for schools in terms of teacher numbers, curriculum development and so forth. Will the Taoiseach engage with the patrons of a significant number of schools in his dialogue with the churches in terms of outlining his priorities vis-à-vis schools and education? Is the introduction of tax cuts for the highest earners a greater priority for the Government than the provision of resources for schools and the education of children from the earliest age?

On structured dialogue with representatives of the various faiths, the Paris attack on Charlie Hebdomagazine and demonstrations in Germany on similar issues have brought to a head a public debate about Islam in Europe and the idea of a clash of cultures and civilisations. As I stated last week, it is unacceptable to blame Muslims in general for the actions of an extreme minority group, as certain movements are trying to do. We must stand united against attempts to blame an entire religion or group for the actions of extremists. We must also be vigilant in condemning such extremists who must not be given any quarter by some who may be sneaking regarders or provide some rationale for the base and unacceptable murder of innocent citizens across Europe and the globe. The threat posed by ISIS and returned jihadis has created significant concern among the general population in many European countries. We need to increase our vigilance against extremist violence, while reasserting our belief in a diverse and inclusive society in which all religions are respected.

The Government has been sending mixed messages on the blasphemy laws. The Taoiseach has indicated that he will meet leaders of the Islamic faith. Many people were concerned by the suggestion made by an Imam that newspapers would be sued if certain articles were written or certain cartoons reprinted. The Constitution needs to be amended to remove the provision on blasphemy. However, the Government appears to have made a decision not to hold a referendum on blasphemy. This is the only conclusion one can reach, given the timelines of the Government. The Taoiseach stated in the House that a referendum on blasphemy would not be held in 2015. Speaking on Newstalk last week, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, stated that while the Government had taken a decision to hold a referendum on blasphemy, it had not yet decided on the timing. We must be honest about this. If a referendum is not held in 2015, none will be held during the lifetime of the Government as it will go to the country in early 2016. Clearly, there will not be the wherewithal or capacity to hold such a referendum in 2016. Will the Taoiseach confirm that is the position? This is a mistake and the matter should be reviewed and reconsidered. The question of whether a referendum on blasphemy will be held in the lifetime of the Government is a fair one which deserves a transparent answer.

While I realise this will be a difficult challenge, will the Taoiseach outline his proposals to ensure a fundamentalist minority is not allowed to develop here? We must guard against intolerance towards a religious minority.


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