Cuts will wipe out Protestant schools, warns archbishop
EDUCATION Minister Batt O’Keeffe claimed yesterday that he withdrew 2.8m in grants from Protestant schools because the payment was deemed unconstitutional.
The Attorney General believed that to continue the grants would be unconstitutional as they were being given to the Protestant denomination and being refused to the Catholic denomination, he said in a heated Dail exchange with Fine Gael education spokesperson Brian Hayes. Mr O’Keeffe accepted that the funding position for Protestant schools in many areas could be more difficult than in Dublin.
And he repeated that he would consider any proposals that would effectively channel funding in rural areas. The claim about the constitutional position was made hours before a stinging attack on Mr O’Keeffe by the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin, Dr John Neill.
Dr Neill said he would like to see the legal advice offered by the Attorney General and noted that it was strange that it was being sought now, 40 years after the arrangements for Protestant schools were first made.
He warned that some Protestant schools would be put out of business. “Those that survive will only do so by charging excessive fees, thereby excluding the very community they were founded to serve,” he said.
The archbishop suggested that the ‘re-classification’ of the Protestant schools was not driven by financial considerations.
“It was driven by what amounts to a very determined and doctrinaire effort within the Department of Education and Science to strike at a sector which some officials totally failed to understand,” he claimed. Previous Governments treated these schools in a fair manner, he said.
“The same cannot be said of the present Fianna Fail / Green Party coalition,” he added.
The future of the Protestant schools was also threatened by the changes in the pupil teacher ratio from 18:1 to 20:1. “These two changes will not only cost jobs, but actually make some schools no longer viable in quite a short span of time,” he added.
Mr Hayes said Mr O’Keeffe was undermining Protestant confidence in the Government’s position, in terms of denominational education and the rights of its 21 secondary schools. Legal opinion that had never been sought in the past 40 years “has resulted in a terrible loss of faith in his position as Minister for Education and Science among the minority community,” he said. He said Protestant schools had done a deal with former Education Minister Donogh O’Malley, when he introduced free education in the 1960s, to ensure they kept grants and the minister was breaking that agreement.
Today, Mr O’Keeffe meets the management committee for Protestant schools which will ask him to restore grants and teachers to the sector.
The grants being abolished
There are five Protestant comprehensive schools where no fees are charged and 21 Protestant secondary schools where fees are charged.
Protestant fee-charging schools were paid a range of support-services grants that Catholic fee-charging schools did not receive The grants abolished were:
School-service support grant of 204 per pupil.
Caretaker and secretary grant of 69.84 per pupil, subject to maximum of 350 pupils.
Equalisation for caretaker and secretary grants of 44.44 per pupil, subject to a maximum of 350 pupils.
Savings were estimated at 2.8m.
In addition, the pupil-teacher ratio in all fee-charging schools, Protestant and Catholic, was changed from 18:1 to 20:1.
O’Keeffe to meet Protestant school representatives
Education Minister Batt O’Keeffe is due to meet representatives of Protestant secondary schools today to discuss cutbacks announced in last year’s budget.
The fee-paying schools have mounted a concerted campaign against Mr O’Keeffe’s decision to cut government funding for their facilities.
Yesterday, the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin accused the Department of Education of mounting a “determined and doctrinaire” effort to undermine Protestant schools.
However, speaking in the Dail, Mr O’Keeffe said the Attorney General had advised that continuing to give grants to Protestant schools while denying them to Catholics schools would be unconstitutional