Higgins’ comments on Catholic schools rejected
A number of prominent Catholic voices have rejected a claim by President Michael D. Higgins that the fact that parental choice is central to education policy in the North and many parents choose to send their children to Catholic schools is to abandon them “to parcels of hate and memory”.
Mr Higgins’ claim that schools in the region are segregated has also been rebuked as an attempt to offer a “superficial analysis” on the debate on education.
Speaking on The Late Late Show on Friday, President Higgins said that faith-based schools in the North can no longer be justified.
Speaking to The Irish Catholic, Baroness Nuala O’Loan said she didn’t accept the president’s analysis. “I don’t know of any Catholic – or indeed any Protestant – who has ever told me that they were taught to hate the other people – the other side if you like – in school,” she said.
She described it as a “surprisingly political statement for a president to make”.
She said the comments were not respectful “of the rights of the people of Northern Ireland to make their own decisions about the type of education they wish to provide for the children of Northern Ireland”.
Prof. Peter Finn, head of St Mary’s University College in Belfast said he is “somewhat unsettled to learn of resurgent opposition to value-based Christian and Catholic education.
“It is amazing in a society that is ostensibly pluralist and tolerant that an approach to education based on Gospel values of love, peace, forgiveness and service is viewed by some in such a negative way.
“I believe that such opposition is based on ideology which is both expedient and facile,” Prof. Finn told The Irish Catholic.
Bishop of Derry Donal McKeown – a former headmaster – was also critical of the attempt to “sectarianise”, saying that the implicit linking of education with the violence in the North was a “distraction” from the real sources of conflict.
“Part of the annoyance in the North was the association of that with the trouble that happened almost exclusively in loyalist areas in the protests,” Bishop McKeown said, continuing, “everyone is quite aware this is a problem for loyalism, this is not a sectarian problem, even if there have been those who have tried to sectarianise it in some places in Belfast”.
The bishop said you’d expect a “prophetic voice to have a deeper insight into the reasons for division,” offering instead a “superficial analysis”.
“Catholic education is very popular among very many parents because of the quality of the product. It’s the most successful sector,” Dr McKeown said.
“If you want to get people out of difficulties and poverty, quality education is a major contribution to that,” Bishop McKeown said.
Prof. Finn has also invited Mr Higgins to visit the university in West Belfast, where many would-be teachers complete their education.
“St Mary’s University College is located just two miles away from the junction of the Springfield Road and Lanark Way in Belfast where violence recently returned to the streets.
“The nature of the education system in the North has nothing whatsoever to do with the cause of that violence. President Higgins is more than welcome to visit our campus, and to take a walk with me onto Beechmount Avenue at lunchtime to see the remarkable ethnic diversity that in fact comprises the local Catholic school population – it is anything but segregated.
“The education system in the North, and by implication those who work within it, should not be implicated as a cause of the violence. To suggest otherwise is to step carelessly on ‘that political eggshell that is Northern Ireland’,” Prof. Finn insisted.