BY No Author | October 22 2010 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print

5-NATIONAL

Peter Robinson’s attack on religious education criticised by Irish bishop

A northern Irish bishop has reacted critically to First Minister Peter Robinson’s call for an end to British state funding for church schools.

Bishop Donal McKeown (above left), auxiliary bishop of Down and Connor and chairman of the Northern Ireland Commission for Catholic Education, was responding to the First Minister’s call for a carefully planned 10-year transition to a general integrated education system in Northern Ireland.

Mr Robinson (above right) described the current system of education as a benign but damaging ‘form of apartheid.’

“I don’t in any way object to churches providing and funding schools for those who choose to use them,” Mr Robinson said at a speech to mark the installation of Vivienne McCoy as Mayor of Castlereagh Borough Council last week.

“What I do object to is the state providing and funding church schools.”

Bishop McKeown, however, said that the continuing educational debate required ‘recognition of the fundamental right of parents in the choice of faith-based education for their child.’

This was a key principle, which recognised the right of parents, and was guaranteed by the European Convention for Human Rights.

“It is also the hallmark of a stable and pluralist society, such as exists in Ireland and Britain, and which finds expression in the provision of state-funded faith-based schools,” he said.

“It is worth pointing out that parents who choose faith-based schools for their children, pay taxes toward the provision of that education. The Catholic Church has also contributed substantial funding and resources for the provision of Catholic schools over generations, and this has ultimately saved the taxpayer money.

“Long experience across this island, North and South, shows that Catholic schools are committed to welcoming pupils of all backgrounds and to building a cohesive society in the service of the common good.”

Sinn Féin Assembly member John O’Dowd said Mr Robinson’s comments on education were ‘little more than a thinly disguised sectarian attack on Catholic education, parents and children.’

Donal Flanagan, the head of the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools also questioned the timing and motivation behind Mr Robinson’s comments. “What I would say is, if Peter Robinson wants an open, honest and inclusive debate on the future of education in Northern Ireland then why would he choose a platform at the installation of a DUP mayor to launch this?” Mr Flanagan said.

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