Written answers

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Department of Education and Science

Multi-Denominational Schools

12:00 pm

Photo of Jan O'SullivanJan O'Sullivan (Limerick East, Labour)
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Question 47: To ask the Minister for Education and Science if he has come to an arrangement with the Protestant school community to reverse the cutbacks made to the fee paying Protestant schools in Budget 2009; his views on the long-standing tradition in which the State recognised the geographically dispersed nature of the Protestant community; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44090/09]

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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Question 389: To ask the Minister for Education and Science if his attention has been drawn to the views expressed by the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin and the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin regarding specific funding for Protestant schools; the degree to which he will continue this provision; if his attention has been drawn to the widespread concern arising from earlier indictions in this regard and the need to provide reassurances; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44480/09]

Photo of Batt O'KeeffeBatt O'Keeffe (Cork North West, Fianna Fail)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 47 and 389 together.

As I stated in my reply to Deputy Hayes today, I have had several meetings with Protestant representatives, most recently on 21 October, when I met with the Committee on Management for Protestant Schools. At that meeting, I invited the committee to join a working group with my officials to explore future measures to support their schools. While I regret that the Committee has declined the invitation, I retain the belief that engagement between them and my officials is the best way to resolve the issues that are of concern.

I have repeatedly stated my, and the Government's, commitment to supporting Protestant education. Indeed, it is in order to deal with the concerns expressed by Archbishop Neill of the effect of the budgetary changes on Protestant schools that I have sought to ensure the direct involvement of those involved in Protestant education in identifying and resolving issues collaboratively. I wish also to confirm that I fully concur with Archbishop Martin's views on the contribution of Protestant schools to fostering pluralism in Irish education.

I would like to emphasise that the Government continues to provide the Block Grant, which was increased this year and amounted to €6.5 million. It is targeted as a support to individual pupils to enable them to attend Protestant schools. I would urge the Deputies to take note that it is this grant, and this grant only, which defrays fees for pupils in need, enabling them to attend day or boarding schools as required, in recognition of the dispersed nature of the Protestant community.

However, I am obliged, at all times, to act in accordance with the Constitution. The Constitution, in article 44, permits state aid to denominational schools, but only on the basis that there be no discrimination between schools under different religious management. The advice of the Attorney General has been provided on the interpretation of this provision, and I am satisfied that the budget changes are consistent with the Constitution.

It is clear, therefore, that a return to the status quo ante is not legally possible.

However, I would like to restate my commitment to working with the Protestant community to identify and resolve issues that may affect some of their schools, particularly those in rural areas, and to examine how these might be examined in a manner consistent with the Constitution.


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