Tradition, Travellers and Schools November 19, 2016Posted by Tomboktu in Choice, Inequality, Travellers.
The ‘baptism barrier’ in Irish schools attracted plenty of media attention this week because the Education (Admission to Schools) Bill was debated in the Dáil. Some, but less, attention was given to the ‘Traveller barrier’. From my quick scan this morning of the published transcripts of the debate, the issue of Travellers and access to schools seems to have been spoken about in a substantive way by only two TDs (some others referred to Travellers in a list of discriminatory grounds that are included in the equality legislation).
Deputy Peter Fitzpatrick: It is a tradition in this country that children generally attend the same school as their parents. For us to put a barrier in that regard is wrong and it is not fair to either the children, their parents or the schools.
I welcome the Minister’s statement that he is open to discussions on this matter. I note that he stated a maximum limit of 25% of places could be available for the children of past pupils. However, I foresee problems with such an approach. For example, what happens if children of past pupils apply for, let us say 35% of the places available? In such a case we would be back to a situation whereby a number of applicants would be treated unfairly. There is no easy solution to the issue. I do not believe we can solve it by simply stating that 25% of places should be reserved for the children of past pupils. My view is that the children of past pupils should always be given the option to attend the school their parents attended. As I already stated, that is the tradition in Ireland and one I would like to see retained. I am not favour of tinkering with long-held traditions that have worked successfully in the past and continue to work successfully now and will into the future. I welcome and acknowledge the Minister’s statement that he will listen to all views on this matter when the Bill is on Committee Stage.
Deputy Ruth Coppinger: I take issue with the Minister retaining the past pupil rule. In effect this is a continuation of the old boys and old girls network. People who end up in university together studying law, medicine and other prestige courses tend to have gone to the same schools. It is simply a continuation of that culture. This rule was used recently to discriminate against a Traveller getting in to a school. The school circumvented the equality legislation by arguing that the child’s father had not attended the school. The Minister must explain why he has not removed this rule. It will be used as a further ground to keep people out. These people are already marginalised and we have had enough marginalisation of the Traveller community in this country. The rule affects immigrants and people who have come to this country in a similar way.
I wonder if Deputy Fitzpatrick and the schools that are lobbying for the retention of ‘tradition’ will be asked when the Committee stage is held if that includes the ‘tradition’ of excluding Travellers from certain schools.