Dáil debates

Wednesday, 24 November 2021

Education (Health, Relationships and Sex Education) Bill 2021: Second Stage [Private Members]

 

11:12 am

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)

Aontú is an Irish republican party. We believe in a pluralist Ireland and an Ireland where everybody has a right to be who they are to the fullest extent without fear or favour. Diversity is a key foundation of a republic and our Republic comes from Wolfe Tone’s republicanism, where Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter can live together peacefully and where everybody can reach their full potential.

Catholic education around the world is renowned. The Catholic Church provided education in this State when much of the State had either no interest or could not afford it. In actual fact we owe a debt of gratitude in this State for the many generations of people who were educated by Catholic educators in this country. The statement that eaten bread is soon forgotten resonates and rebounds across this Chamber here today.

We in Aontú believe that there are too many Catholic schools in this State at present. We fully support the divestment of Catholic schools in order that the education system reflects the diversity that exists in society today. The Government has been talking about divestments for years. I remember former Minister, Ruairí Quinn, in this Chamber looking to move the idea of divestment. I also remember Labour Party councillors locally lobbying Ruairí Quinn not to divest their local school because parents did not want it divested.

We also believe, and this is very important, that all students, no matter what their background, gender or orientation, should be able to see themselves positively in the education that they receive. It is key to the formation of any young person that they understand themselves through their education and understand that they have value, that they are good and that they have an intrinsic dignity.

We also believe that all parents should be able to send their children to a school that reflects their ethos. This is, by definition, the pluralist education model of a republic. I believe wholeheartedly that the Social Democrats Members here today should be able to send their children to any school that reflects their ethos but I oppose strongly that party’s seeking to deny parents of a different ethos doing the same thing. I oppose the Social Democrats forcing their ethos on other families who do not want it. This Social Democrats Bill is an attack on pluralism and on diversity and is a one-size-fits-all Bill. It states that parents can forget about the ethos of their family and that the Minister of the day will determine the ethos of the education system that parents and students will receive in the future.

The Ireland of the 1950s was a place of extreme uniformity. One either fitted into the uniformity of the society or had to keep one’s head down.

The Social Democrats' Bill is simply a mirror image of that uniformity. Sure, the ethos is vastly different. The clothes of the policy are radically different but the Bill is just as rigid, uniform and as stifling. The basis of the word "pluralism" is plural. The idea of having a plural system means having competing, different and sometimes disagreeing systems. However, this is a Bill that seeks to delete that pluralism.

It amazes me at times that the people who often flaunt and wear the clothes of pluralism diversity the most in this State are often the people who vigorously oppose that diversity in reality. I will give an example of that. Ógra Shinn Féin held a debate just before the local elections on diversity in the National University of Ireland, Galway, NUIG. It invited female candidates of all the different political parties to that debate, including our own Nuala Nolan, who was formerly a Labour Party councillor in Galway. When it found out she was a human rights activist and supported everybody’s right to life, it disinvited her from that debate on diversity and suspended the Ógra Shinn Féin member who invited her to that debate. Let us think about that for a second. Its message was that it was having a debate on diversity and supporting diversity 100% but only if it agrees with its opinion.

Many of the speakers in this debate will say there should be no ethos in the education of our children on this issue. However, we cannot have an ethos vacuum. Some of the speakers have said they want a science-based debate. I also want a science-based education system but humanity needs a value system to make sense of science. Science has given us the power to split the atom but our value system determines whether we use it for a nuclear bomb or for nuclear energy. The Social Democrats will say it is a party of science but it is also a party of values. It would not be able to interpret science without its values. Value systems are very important in society for people to be able to make sense of that facts that exist in that society. If we are in a pluralist republic, we should be able to tolerate the existence of plural value systems in the society.

I remember when I was a Sinn Féin Deputy I was whipped by the party at the time to vote for a similar Bill introduced by the then Socialist Party seeking a similar outcome. That was incredible because that Bill was in complete contradiction to what Sinn Féin was saying in the North of Ireland. Catholic education is especially important to nationalists in the North. It is one of the few places where nationalists in the North could be safe and celebrate their culture. However, Six Counties Sinn Féin would never attack the pluralist education system in the North, given the history of the North. It would know better than to do that. However, we have Twenty-six Counties Sinn Féin supporting this Bill and that previous Bill. Sinn Féin’s view on this is a partitioned view. That partitionism within Sinn Féin is growing over a number of different areas.

This Bill is likely to be going nowhere because of the fact it is likely to be unconstitutional. Central to the Constitution is the right of parents to be the primary educator of their children and to be able to choose the education of their children. If this Bill is going nowhere, it amounts in many ways to a virtue signal. Right around the world, parties of the left are spending much of their time on woke virtue signalling instead of using their time to represent working-class people on the bread and butter issues that are hammering so many people.

In the US, the Democrats forgot about the bread and butter issues of the Pennsylvania steelworkers and handed those votes to Trump. The red wall of north England fell in large part because the Labour Party was distracted by these issues and did not listen to the people in working-class areas. That is happening in France and in many other countries. By all means, we need divestment. We need more ethos options for parents and children around the country. We need to remove the Catholic Church from many schools. However, this Bill seeks to return to the stifling uniformity of the 1950s except in another guise.

We should remember while we debate this Bill today thousands of children throughout the country are stressed out because they cannot get a school place. Many children with autism are being discriminated against and there is a desperate lack of school places for those individuals. I thoroughly believe it is incredible we are having this debate while thousands of students are forced to stay at home because of improper Government policies on Covid and that there is not a substitution provision right now for the teachers they need so much. However, here we are debating a Bill that is likely to go nowhere.

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