On Sunday, the Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin, told the Irish Times that the government’s policy to divest schools from Catholic patronage had not attracted significant demand from parents.
The Dublin Primate, who supports a policy of further divestment, said that “the great majority” of school boards of management remained under control of the churches “despite efforts by church and State to encourage greater plurality”.
He also noted that most parents seemed unconcerned with the issue.
“I’m not too sure that many people are asking for it, because if people are happy with their school they are happy with their school,” he said.
The numbers seem to bear out that claim.
In a response to a question from Fianna Fáil’s Dara Calleary, Minister for Education and Skills, Joe McHugh, pointed to just three schools where patronage change has taken place “in recent years”.
They were: ‘Two-Mile Community National School in Kerry, and Faughart, in Co. Louth and Brannocktown, Co. Kildare which became Community National Schools in 2018.’
Minister McHugh did confirm that “a number of other schools are due to become multi-denominational Community National Schools from September 2019, following agreement between their current patron and the local ETB”.
However, given that there are 3,240 primary schools in Ireland according to the Department of Education those numbers do not appear to show any great demand from parents for divestment.
In fact, a controversy erupted earlier this year when parents in the north county Dublin strongly resisted attempts to remove the Catholic ethos of the school.
Parents and teachers in the Malahide-Portmarnock-Kinsealy area reacted angrily to demands from the Department of Education that one school of eight in the area would be required to divest Catholic patronage, and said they wanted to retain the “spirit, culture and even the name of the school”.
The numbers suggest that the government’s push for divestment may not always be matched by what parents want for their children.