‘Get Catholics out’ Labour Party insult to parents and volunteers

‘Get Catholics out’ Labour Party insult to parents and volunteers Aodhán Ó Ríordáin. Photo: Newstalk

Labour’s education spokesman Aodhán Ó Ríordáin was greeted with sustained applause after he shouted “let’s get them out” in relation to parish-owned Catholic schools. He made the call at the party’s annual conference at the weekend. He said that the practice of religious patronage of schools needed to be ended, adding: “If that requires a referendum we should do it and we should win it”.

Séamus Mulconry of the Catholic Primary School Management Association (CPSMA) dismissed the intervention as “completely out of touch for a politician to be talking about school patronage at a time when the primary school system is under incredible stress.

“Principals are trying to cope with Covid-19, and we’re also in the midst of a very serious substitution crisis.

“The comments are an insult to the more than 23,000 people who serve as voluntary members of boards of management [in Catholic schools] and who support the governance of schools.

“These are for the most part laypeople, they are volunteers, they receive no payment, no recognition, and no expenses. They’re making an extraordinary contribution to education and these are the people that the deputy wants to get out of education,” he said.

Bishop of Meath Tom Deenihan told The Irish Catholic that the key issue is respecting parents’ choices around education for their children.

“There are a group of people who do not wish to attend Catholic schools  – and that must be respected – and the bishops at their October meeting committed very publicly to a process of divesting and that process is continuing.

“The bishops continue to engage with the department [of education] in relation to moving that process forward, I think they want to move it forward and we want to move it forward.

“However, the reality is that a significant percentage of the population want to send their children to Catholic schools and that is the reality that politicians and parishes are encountering throughout the country and for that reason many parishes have given land for the development of schools, my own diocese included,” he said.

Bishop Deenihan said he was “a little bit surprised by the tone and content of Mr Ó Ríordáin’s comments”.

Senator Rónán Mullen said in his opinion it appeared to him that “anti-Catholic sentiment is moving south of the border 21st Century style at the Labour party conference”.

He said the comments would “make sense if there was some kind of Catholic monopoly on education in Ireland, and if everybody else was legally prevented from establishing schools, but the truth is that anybody can establish schools with the support of the State.

“He’s envious of a Christian heritage in education, and rather than engage in selling his positive alternative to people, he would like to take schools off people who have established them,” Mr Mullen said.

He said that “Christian schools must continue to enjoy State support if there are people who want to continue to send their children to those schools”.