Thursday, 13 April 2017
Equal Status (Amendment) Bill 2017: First Stage
That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Equal Status Act 2000 to amend section 7(3) of that Act so that school admission policies in publicly funded schools may not discriminate against children on the basis of religious beliefs.
I am seeking leave to introduce the Equal Status (Amendment) Bill 2017. The Bill seeks to end one of the most discriminatory laws on the Statue Book: section 7(3)(c) of the Equal Status Act 2000.
Section 7(3)(c) allows schools to discriminate against children. It allows schools in their admissions policies to discriminate against children who do not share the same religious ethos as that promoted by the school in question. It allows schools to turn away four and five year old children purely on religious grounds. The Social Democrats believe such a law is fundamentally unacceptable. It is anti-child and anti-education. It is blatant discrimination.
If such a law were proposed by President Donald Trump or Marine Le Pen, we would be rightly appalled at the proposal. No one here would fail to join the chorus of condemnation of such a discriminatory law. Yet, we still allow this discrimination in our country today.
The Social Democrats believe that our education system should be designed with the interests of children at its heart rather than the interests of religious groups. That is why we are bringing forward this Bill.
The Bill would eradicate one of the most blatant examples of discrimination in Irish society. It would repeal section 7(3)(c) of the Equal Status Act as it applies to all publicly-funded schools. It would mean schools that are over-subscribed would no longer be able to select children on the basis of religious beliefs. It would mean that parents would no longer have to get their children baptised simply to gain access to their local school. It would mean the so-called baptism barrier would disappear.
In recent public consultation on this matter such an option was favoured by a wide range of civil society groups with an interest in the education system. These groups include the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, Equate, Educate Together, the Children’s Rights Alliance, INTO, Education Equality, the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland, ISPCC, EPIC, BeLonG To, Pavee Point and others.
The public is tired of the procrastination from Government, the endless excuses and the blatant favouritism by the State of the rights of religious over the rights of the child. The public is tired of the distinct lack of courage at the heart of successive Governments.
Our laws should reflect the diversity of Irish society and the variety of belief systems that exist in the country. Religion plays a deep and meaningful role in the lives of many people. The Statute Book should respect those beliefs. However, we need to be clear: our laws should not favour one belief system over another. There is no place in a tolerant society for the kind of discrimination currently permitted under section 7(3)(c) of the Equal Status Act.
On that basis, I appeal to all Members to support the Bill. There is a chance now under this legislation to end this most blatant form of discrimination once and for all. I appeal to everyone in the House to support the Bill.