In the latest episode of the long-running saga of Ireland's slow progress toward modernity, it seems that parents are being asked to produce baptismal certificates [free registration required] to get their children enrolled in their local school, where said school is run by the Catholic church (as over 90% in this State still are) and is oversubscribed (no figures, but that number seems to be increasing too, thanks to the widespread and ludicrous policy of building housing estates first with schools to follow later - often years and years later).

Anecdotally, some non-believing parents are even having their children baptised, for the sole reason that doing so is the only way to secure a place in the local school.

Readers from other countries should understand that this is not a case of social climbing parents just trying to get their kids into the best school. In large areas of this State, the local Catholic school is the only school. If there is no place for your child in it, there is nowhere else in the vicinity for the little munchkin to go.

This is ridiculous.

Church officials are defending the policy on the grounds that these are, after all, Catholic schools, and since the Church is running the schools, it has the right to decide who can attend. But that's just not good enough. The extent of the Church's control over education in this State means that Catholic schools are, de facto, State schools. They are even called "national" schools. Their teacher salaries are paid for by general taxation. They are not just some minor private enterprise operating on an optional basis with the right to minimal government interference.

The Minister's response to this crisis (no link, sorry; I heard it on the radio) has essentially been to wash her hands of it. The affected families have little recourse under State law, as both the 1937 Constitution and the relevant legislation were effectively drafted in such a way as to protect the Church's right to decide how the majority of our children will be educated.

But when the reality is that children are being discriminated against because of their (or more accurately their parents') religion - and that some parents are even being forced to "convert" their children in order to secure an education for them in their home communities - it is plain that a serious human rights violation is taking place. If the State won't do anything about it, the parents should go to the ECHR. My general misgivings about the European Union notwithstanding, as long as we're going to be a part of it we may as well take what benefits we can get from it - and anything that helps drag this country kicking and screaming into the 21st century is definitely a benefit worth taking.

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