Dáil debates

Thursday, 19 May 2022

Education (Admission to Schools) Bill 2020 Report: Motion


4:30 pm

Photo of Aodhán Ó RíordáinAodhán Ó Ríordáin (Dublin Bay North, Labour) | Oireachtas source

I move:

That Dáil Éireann shall take note of the Report of the Joint Committee on Education, Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science entitled "Report on the Detailed Scrutiny of the Education (Admission to Schools) Bill 2020", copies of which were laid before Dáil Éireann on 4th March, 2022.

I doubt that I need all the time allotted. The Minister knows this issue well. I introduced this Bill in November 2020. The Minister did not oppose the amendments to the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018 contained in it and asked that Second Stage be taken after 12 months to facilitate her Department doing the requisite evaluation of the impact of what my amendment intended to do. We had deliberations at the joint committee and witnesses appeared from the equality and education spheres who felt that there was no need for the amendment. There was one dissenting voice on the basis that the provision for providing potentially 25% of places to the children or grandchildren of past pupils is rarely used and, therefore, there is no need to omit it from the Act. The question from me and others at the committee was: why does the provision exist if it is never used?

The Minister knows how strongly my party, the Joint Committee on Education, Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science and I feel about this part of the Education (Admission to Schools) Act. I cannot speak to the genesis, motivations or lobbying behind it, but I know that it was sought by a particular sector of the education field to facilitate certain schools that wanted to keep the royal bloodline succession in their schools by allowing 25% of places to be held over for the children or grandchildren of past pupils. Of course it is discriminatory. A person's parents or grandparents may not have gone to secondary school. It disproportionately affects members of the Traveller community and people who are not from the immediate area and whose parents or grandparents went to primary or secondary school in another area of the country. People who are living in County Kerry who are not originally from Kerry would be affected by this. People who are not from the country would be affected. I was doing research on my own family and it turned out that none of my grandparents went to secondary school, so it would appear that I would have been at a disadvantage if this legislation had been in vogue when I was trying to access second level places back in the day.

There is agreement from the Minister and parties across the House that this element of the Education (Admission to Schools) Act is unnecessary, elitist, divisive, and is causing problems. It is not just being utilised by the fee-paying sector, although I suspect it really wanted it. It is used across the board in the non-fee-paying sector too. In certain areas where there is oversubscription and families are trying to access a school place, they find themselves at a disadvantage if they are not from that area, because they did not attend the school themselves.

I know the Minister believes that education is the great liberator. It is the one thing that will lift people out of difficult situations and put them onto a new path. The one thing that can bring people through poverty and lift them more than anything else is the beauty and availability of education. I have seen through my life the effect it has had on families and individuals. All barriers that are placed between an individual and access to education need to be rooted out. To place a barrier by allowing more access rights in any situation to somebody whose grandfather or grandmother went to a particular school does violence to the idea of a republic.

I think people forget what a republic actually means. It is not the absence of a monarchy. It means that absolutely every single citizen of this State has the same rights and the same opportunities, no matter who their parents or their grandparents were. This amendment of the Act does violence and injustice to that philosophy.

I want to ask the Minister a number of questions. It has been suggested to me that the entirety of the Act should possibly have been directed to the Data Protection Commissioner because it potentially comes under section 36 of the GDPR Act. The Minister might speak to that again at a later point or forward me her Department's opinion on it. The main thing I want to get from today's session is how we can move this to becoming law. It sometimes frustrates Opposition Deputies and I dare say Government backbenchers when they have a piece of legislation they have drafted and crafted in good faith and there is agreement around it, when it comes from a place of decency and equality and they really want to see it get over the line and become law rather than flounder through red tape or whatever. I believe what we are trying to do here is ethical, right and just. We went through the proper process, put it forward for selection in the lottery for Private Member's Bills. It was taken up and debated. The Minister asked that it be delayed for 12 months and it was. It is on Second Stage now. Can the Minister, the Government or those who have influence over these things allow some time to be given in these Houses for this to become law? If it were to happen, it would be a good reflection of what we can achieve together for children in the education system in this place we call a republic. It should not matter who their parents or their grandparents were.

Imagine this scenario. A Ukrainian child arrives in this country seeking refuge and then has difficulty accessing a second level place because the person whose father or grandfather went to the school has more of a right than that child has. That would be a preposterous scenario but it is what we have in law. I ask the Minister again, if we are all agreed on this, how can we make it happen?


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