Bishops Disagree with Proposals to Close Northern Ireland Schools
Dublin (IRL): The bishops are afraid that the proposal would "pose a serious threat to the right of parents to choose a Catholic education for their children." They add: "The proposals will radically undermine a long cherished Catholic education system which has been recognized for the strength of its distinctiveness, and the richness of its tradition and diversity as contributing to the raising of school standards and the promotion of a culture of tolerance and understanding."
The British government proposals reply to the fact, that all Northern Ireland schools – Catholic, Protestant and integrated – share the problem of falling pupil numbers: as many as 54,000 school desks are empty. "There are too many schools with too few pupils," said in his 4 December report Sir George Bain, the former president of Queen's University in Belfast. He also said that additional funding should be awarded to integrated schools which adopt cross-community initiatives and involve in reducing sectarianism between Catholics and Protestants. According to Sir George, schools should be based on a geographical rather than religious basis.
Both the Catholic Church and the Church of Ireland reject claims that integrated education will end Northern Ireland's sectarian disputes, but they welcome the report's emphasis on "the principles of equality, accessibility, diversity and parental choice," patently missing in the government's proposals.