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Cardinal in Catholic education lobby at assembly committee


Irish News

History will be made at Stormont today when the head of the Catholic Church in Ireland will give evidence to an assembly committee for the first time.

So concerned is Cardinal Sean Brady that he will lobby politicians to safeguard to right of parents to have their children educated in Catholic schools.

Cardinal Brady has said the “very future of Catholic education” in Northern Ireland is being threatened significantly by new legislation agreed by the assembly.

A major government review designed to cut bureaucracy, save money and improve efficiency was agreed in December.

The Education and Skills Authority (ESA) will see the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools, which employs about 8,500 teachers, relieved of its administrative duties and reduced to an advisory role.

Cardinal Brady said the planned legislation undermined the confidence of Catholic trustees that parents’ rights to have schools with a particular ethos were respected.

Today he will appear before the cross party education committee as part of a delegation from the Northern Ireland Commission for Catholic Education (NICCE).

Bishop Patrick Walsh and Bishop Donal McKeown will also attend.

This will be the first time any Catholic primate or cardinal has addressed a committee of the assembly – it never happened before under old Stormont regimes.

He will be greeted in private by committee chairman and deputy chairman Mervyn Storey of the DUP and the SDLP’s Dominic Bradley.

Such is the level of public interest in the cardinal’s appearance that the meeting has been moved from its regular venue to the assembly’s ornate senate chamber.

Ahead of the meeting the NICCE, which speaks for the owners of 550 Catholic schools, submitted written evidence to the committee expressing concern about the education bill.

It said allowing ESA to be the employer of all staff in all schools was a “fundamental impediment to the ability of trustees to exercise their rights and duties regarding the ethos and defining character of a school”.

Trustees, it said, urged the committee to recommend amendments to the bill which would affirm the freedom of schools to assume full and ultimate responsibility as employer for all staff.

The commission said it regarded the right of governors to be the legal employer of teachers as “critical to the future provision of schools of a particular ethos and defining character in Northern Ireland”.

A crucial question was whether there would be “adequate recognition of the rights of parents to have their children educated in a manner consistent with their religious and philosophical convictions”.

This, the group added, was a right recognised in the provision of publicly funded faith-based schools in England, Wales, Scotland and the Republic of Ireland.


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