Xenophobia and Racism Affect Black School Children in Ireland

I’ve written in the past about European countries being forced to confront racism and xenophobia, which is especially the case in nations where large scale immigration is making the countries more ethnically and racially diverse. One of the latest countries confronting discrimination is Ireland. Unlike many other Western European countries, Ireland was never colonial power. In places, like France, Spain, and Britain many immigrants are coming from former colonies, but since Ireland didn’t have colonies, Irish immigration is a little less predictable. Nevertheless, Ireland is facing some of the same problems as other European countries. Many Irish people do not accept the new immigrants, and this is especially true for Black immigrants, who come mostly from West African countries like Nigeria.

Traditionally, Ireland has been a country of emigrants.1 Given this fact, it should be no surprise that there are more people of Irish descent in the US alone than there are in Ireland, but in a surprising twist of fate, the trend is beginning to reverse.2 With Irish birth rates above replacement level and a new wave of immigrants from Africa and Eastern Europe, Ireland is actually gaining more people than it is losing. Some hope that this will contribute to growth in the Irish economy, which has been one of the weakest economies in western Europe.

Right now, there is little research on this trend, and the manifestations of anti-immigrant attitudes and racism come to light with stories this one. The gist of the story is that in a suburb of Dublin nearly all of the approximately 90 children who couldn’t find a school to attend were black kids.

The children will attend a new, all-black school, a prospect that educators called disheartening.

About 90 children could not find school places in the north Dublin suburb of Balbriggan , a town of more than 10,000 people with two elementary schools. Local educators called a meeting over the weekend for parents struggling to find places and said they were shocked to see only black children.

“That overwhelmed me. I’m not quite sure what to make of it. I just find it extremely concerning,” said Gerard Kelly, principal of a school with a mixture of black and white students in the nearby town of Swords.

The parents at Saturday’s meeting in a Balbriggan hotel said they had tried to get their children into local schools but were told that all places had to be reserved by February.

Almost all of the children are Irish-born and thus Irish citizens, under a law that existed until 2004.

There is no way this is merely a coincidence, especially when a neighboring town has mixed schools. It should be noted that they are not starting a school that only admits black pupils, like this poorly worded headline from The Times Online suggests. The school is made up overwhelmingly of black children because those children “mysteriously” were not allowed to enter many of the local schools.

Part of the problem is that the Irish government allows schools to discriminate on the basis of religion, which ends up being a form of indirect institutional racism.

About 98 percent of schools are run by the Roman Catholic Church, and the law permits them to discriminate on the basis of whether a prospective student has a certificate confirming they were baptized into the faith. Some of the African applicants were Muslim, members of evangelical Protestant denominations or of no religious creed.

Since many immigrants are not Catholic, these schools were allowed to not accept them without a Catholic baptism certificate. It is difficult to know how many black children who were Catholic were also excluded. I know many of the African children are Nigerian, and many Christian Nigerians are Catholic, so I’d be curious to see how much religious discrimination and racial discrimination overlapped in this case. Clearly, this is a great case for the separation of church and state, and this is an issue that the Irish will have to confront as they become a multicultural nation.

I suspect that the 2004 referendum changing laws that allow parents of Irish citizen children to also become citizens is part of an anti-immigrant backlash. It will also be interesting to see how the role of the Catholic church changes because of immigration. They may lose some power. Ireland can’t call itself democratic when 98% of their schools are run in an openly discriminatory fashion.

Over the next few years, I expect to see more stories on discrimination like the case in Balbriggan. Hopefully, we will see more pro-immigrant organizations developing from ethnic Irish and immigrants.

  1. Emigration with an “e” refers to people exiting the country. This is how I teach the words in class: Immigration with an “i” means into and emigration “e” means exit. []
  2. Unfortunately, this article is now a paying article, but I was able to read in my New York Times home delivery. []
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23 Responses to Xenophobia and Racism Affect Black School Children in Ireland

  1. 1
    Yusifu says:

    It’s very depressing that even countries with no colonial history demonstrate such overt racism. A couple of things: Ireland’s economy is currently one of the *strongest* in Europe, which is a factor in attracting immigrants. The population is quite highly educated, and the cost of living is one of the highest in the world. It doesn’t surprise me that so many of the Nigerians would be affected by the discrimination against non-Catholics. Although there are lots of Nigerian Catholics, they’re a relatively small part of the Christian population. In recent years, lots of Christians have moved toward the new Pentecostalist churches, so kids whose parents were born Catholic often wouldn’t have been baptized in the church themselves.

  2. 2
    steve says:

    Actually a state can be completly faithful to democratic ideals and be discriminatory at the same time. Ireland has chosen a national identity that has included strong integrated Roman Catholism into their governmental structure. Irelands Catholicism is strongly tied to thier national identity going down to an individual level. They are more than happy to leave their problems with the church at a grumbling only level, and will actually rise to it’s defense if attacked from outside.
    I think they will be less than eager to respond to the usual methods to pressure governments to a political stance. You’d have better luck if you could talk Sin Fein into adopting your stance.

  3. 3
    Sally says:

    It will also be interesting to see how the role of the Catholic church changes because of immigration. They may lose some power.

    The church already has lost a huge amount of its power, for reasons that have nothing to do with immigration. Religious bodies still retain a lot of control of education, and I think that will probably be tough to change for a lot of reasons, which mostly have to do with the fact that schools in Ireland aren’t directly owned or managed by the state. I do think Ireland could probably pass a law outlawing religious discrimination in national schools, which would be a start. I suspect, though, that this isn’t going to be a high priority in Ireland precisely because religious discrimination ends up being a back-door way to discriminate against at least some immigrants. (There are plenty of Catholic immigrants from Eastern Europe, and they’re not especially popular, either.)

    I suspect that the 2004 referendum changing laws that allow parents of Irish citizen children to also become citizens is part of an anti-immigrant backlash.

    The 2004 referendum got rid of birthright citizenship. It used to be that any child born on the island of Ireland was automatically a citizen of the Republic of Ireland. Now, only the children of Irish citizens are. It was definitely, without a doubt, the result of anti-immigrant backlash.

    I think they will be less than eager to respond to the usual methods to pressure governments to a political stance. You’d have better luck if you could talk Sin Fein into adopting your stance.

    Is this a joke? If so, I don’t get it.

    Irish people really want to be sophisticated and cosmopolitan right now. Unfortunately, anti-immigrant sentiment is popular all over the developed world, and hating immigrants is totally compatible with a self-image that depicts Irish people as worldly Europeans. Incidentally, what you don’t see much of in Ireland is anti-Muslim sentiment. I don’t know if that’s because the Muslim community is pretty prosperous or it’s that a lot of Irish people have lived in Britain and have first-hand experience of being wrongly associated with terrorism.

    Finally, it’s true that Ireland doesn’t have a colonial history, although it’s important not to forget that prior to independence, a lot of Irish people enthusiastically associated themselves with the British empire, if not with direct British control of Irish affairs. Irish people were agents, and not just victims, of British imperialism, something that until recently has been a bit erased from the official version of Irish history. But also, Ireland has its own internal minority, the Travellers, and there’s a long history of institutionalized discrimination against them. There’s a big debate about whether to call that racism, since Travellers are physically indistinguishable from the rest of the population, but I think that Rachel would come down on the side that said that it was. There’s been plenty of antisemitism, too, although it’s seldom resulted in violence. So it’s not like you have to be an imperial power to have your own internal hierarchies and histories of oppression to draw from.

  4. 4
    Rachel S. says:

    Yusifi, I’m not so sure that it is one of the strongest. I’d need to see GNP figures, but I think it is fair to say it is expanding and improving, while most of the other European countries have stagnant or worsening economies.

    That is also an interesting point you make about the families changing to Protestant religions. Do you think it is because they have encountered discrimination from the Catholic church in Ireland?

  5. 5
    Rachel S. says:

    Sally, are you saying the new law expands beyond just parents? The article suggested that many parents got citizenship through their children. So was the old law–birth right citizenship and parents of citizens could also become citizens and the new law no parental citizenship and no birth right citizenship? If you know, can you tell me what pathways people have to citizenship in Ireland?

  6. 6
    Sally says:

    I’m a little fuzzy on Irish citizenship law, so someone can correct me if I’m wrong.

    It used to be that according to the Irish Constitution, there was birthright citizenship for everyone born on the island of Ireland. The children and grandchildren of emigrants are also citizens, which I think, although I could be wrong, is also part of the Constitution. (Until recently, this was basically a symbolic gesture, since non-resident Irish citizens can’t vote and since there weren’t enough jobs for people born in Ireland, much less for random members of the Irish diaspora.) Immigration began to become controversial in the early years of this decade, and the referendum resulted in a Constitutional amendment that got rid of the *Constitutional* guarantee to birthright citizenship. It didn’t specify what the citizenship policy would be, though. That’s a matter to be decided by the legislature.

    I believe that at the moment, children of legal immigrants are citizens of Ireland, as long as their parents have lived in Ireland for a certain amount of time. I think this would include people from the EU who were living and working legally in Ireland. I’m pretty sure that Irish-born children of asylum seekers are *not* Irish citizens, and that includes a lot of African children. What this means is that there are, in effect, three groups of children who are affected: the children of recent legal immigrants, the children of illegal immigrants, and the children of people who are claiming refugee status. However, anyone born in Ireland before 2005 is an Irish citizen, because the Constitutional amendment wasn’t applied retroactively. So the kids who are affected by the new policy haven’t hit school yet.

    So basically, there are Americans who have never been to Ireland who are more entitled to Irish citizenship than people who have lived in Ireland their entire lives. And it’s entirely possible that this law means that some children born in Ireland are stateless. It’s all very problematic.

  7. 7
    RonF says:

    Clearly, this is a great case for the separation of church and state, and this is an issue that the Irish will have to confront as they become a multicultural nation.

    Perhaps they are confronting it by deciding that they don’t want to become a multicultural nation. The news out of France, Germany, etc. is probably not helping promote favor for the idea.

    I suspect that the 2004 referendum changing laws that allow parents of Irish citizen children to also become citizens is part of an anti-immigrant backlash.

    I suspect you’re right. Again, to promote the idea that the Irish like Irish culture just fine and see no reason to change it because people from the outside want to come in and do so.

    Ireland can’t call itself democratic when 98% of their schools are run in an openly discriminatory fashion.

    Sure they can. If a majority of people discriminate using the ballot box and forms of government that have been established via said ballot box, it’s democratic. This may be based on a desire to protect and maintain Irish culture from outside forces and ensure that immigrants conform themselves to it instead of the Irish having to conform Ireland’s culture to the immigrants. It may be based on raw racism. Either way, or some other way, it’s still democratic.

    About 98 percent of schools are run by the Roman Catholic Church,

    Hm. How does this work? How are these schools funded? What is involved if some other organization wanted to set up a school? Are private schools that receive no state funding allowed?

    I’d really like to see some details about this last. After all, here in the U.S. there is a presumption that schools should be funded and operated by the State. But that doesn’t mean that’s the only way to do it. If all religions and all non-religious organizations are equally granted access to State funds to run schools, and if students are not required to take religious instruction in school, it’s not clear that there’s a violation of what we in the U.S. call First Amendment principles (sometimes erroneously referred to as “separation of Church and State”, which is a phrase that I would caution our international contingent appears exactly nowhere in the U.S. Constitution). There’s no particular reason why the U.S. couldn’t continue to fund schools but get out of the business of operating them.

    I will say that if 90 kids have no school to go to, that’s a big problem and a solution needs to be found, pronto. If those children grow up uneducated, it’s a big problem for whatever civic polity they will be living in. But I’d have to know more about how schools work in Ireland before I could speculate on the right way to solve it. It seems to me that the civic authority has been asleep at the switch here.

  8. 8
    Rachel S. says:

    RonF said,
    “to promote the idea that the Irish like Irish culture just fine and see no reason to change it because people from the outside want to come in and do so.”

    Well Ron, if Irish folks liked Ireland and Irish culture so well why have most of them left their country. Okay, I’m being sarcastic. I know they left because of the economy and famine and so on, but depopulation really devastated Ireland, and the survival of the culture depends in part on it’s ability to rebuild and reform to meet current realities.

    Ron F said, “If a majority of people discriminate using the ballot box and forms of government that have been established via said ballot box, it’s democratic.”

    Any real democracy has minority rights. Even if the majority believes one thing, this doesn’t mean that minorities can be denied basic rights. What you’re talking about is tyrany of the majority.

    RonF said, “Hm. How does this work? How are these schools funded? What is involved if some other organization wanted to set up a school? Are private schools that receive no state funding allowed?”

    I don’t know exactly how this works, but it is pretty clear that these Cathollic schools are publicly funded. But it also sounds like the government is required to school all children, which is why they are being forced to set up a school for these 90 kids? Now if the Catholic schools are saying no non-Catholics allowed and they have more space, I don’t know how the government could be OK with it. But if you read between the lines, it sounds like they have more children than they do school slots, so the Catholic schools were able to pick who they wanted.

    RonF said, “If all religions and all non-religious organizations are equally granted access to State funds to run schools, and if students are not required to take religious instruction in school, it’s not clear that there’s a violation of what we in the U.S. call First Amendment principles (sometimes erroneously referred to as “separation of Church and State”, which is a phrase that I would caution our international contingent appears exactly nowhere in the U.S. Constitution). There’s no particular reason why the U.S. couldn’t continue to fund schools but get out of the business of operating them.”

    Well if we do get out of the business of operating schools this is exactly the kind of crap that is going to happen. The stats all suggest privately operated schools are much more discriminatory than publicly operated schools.

  9. 9
    Sally says:

    Perhaps they are confronting it by deciding that they don’t want to become a multicultural nation.

    That’s nice, but their economy is booming to such an extent that they have no choice but to become a multicultural nation. There aren’t enough Irish people to fill all the available jobs. They have two alternatives: admit immigrants or slow down their economic growth. Since they’re not willing to do the latter, they’re going to have to come to terms with multiculturalism. And, of course, they’d have to leave the EU in order to keep out workers from other European countries, which they’re also not willing to do. Irish people have been delighted to take the benefits of EU membership and other aspects of globalization. Those benefits come with some things that they might perceive to be drawbacks. That’s life.

    Again, to promote the idea that the Irish like Irish culture just fine and see no reason to change it because people from the outside want to come in and do so.

    Given the massive, huge transformation that Irish culture has undergone in the past fifteen or so years, Irish people would have to be very stupid to think that their culture was going to be unchanged. Irish culture has been radically altered by prosperity, by the declining influence of the church, by the ending of the conflict in Northern Ireland, by all sorts of things. Rapid change is always a bit stressful, but I would say that most Irish people think that on the whole, the changes have been positive. And immigration is an inevitable byproduct of Ireland’s transformation.

    The school situation in Ireland is really complicated, and I don’t know enough about it. But basically, the schools at the center of this controversy are national schools, which are akin to public elementary schools in the U.S. When the universal education system in Ireland was set up, prior to independence, there was a huge problem about what to do about religion. The Catholic Church was unwilling to allow Irish Catholic children to be educated in secular schools, and the British government was unwilling to give the Catholic Church an official role in government. The compromise was to set up a school system in which schools would be run by local boards, which in practice would almost always be controlled by the local Catholic priest. This gave the Church de facto control without giving it an official role. After independence, Ireland was officially secular but in practice gave the Church a ton of power, so this arrangement continued to be convenient. There are other primary schools, including a very few secular ones. But national schools are the default option, and kids are entitled to attend one. You can’t just tell parents to set up their own schools, any more than you could bar minorities from public schools in the U.S. and claim it was ok because parents were free to create their own schools. (And actually, this is exactly the kind of nightmare scenario that people who oppose the privatization of schools in the U.S. talk about.)

    It seems to me that the civic authority has been asleep at the switch here.

    I think this is probably part of a larger infrastructure crisis in Ireland. The country’s prosperity is based on a strategy of attracting international businesses by offering low taxes and a well-educated, English-speaking workforce. That worked, and it led to a population boom, which led to the need to build new roads and schools and whatnot. But you can’t do that while maintaining low taxes. So now they’ve got over-crowded schools and suburban sprawl and people making really long commutes on bad roads, and they’re not sure how to fix it without raising taxes and possibly jeopardizing the basis of their prosperity. And of course, it is very, very easy to blame immigrants, even though immigrants only account for part of the population growth and even though the country needs immigrant workers to sustain its growth. I think that, in general, immigrants have become scapegoats for some of the unease and tension caused by the rapid changes in Irish society, even though on the whole most people think those changes are positive.

    I probably shouldn’t set myself up as the resident expert on Ireland here. I’m sure there are Irish people reading this who can speak to it all better than I can.

  10. 10
    inge says:

    RonF, Perhaps they are confronting it by deciding that they don’t want to become a multicultural nation. The news out of France, Germany, etc. is probably not helping promote favor for the idea.

    As there is no limit to cluelessness in the world, it’s quite possible that they want to avoid Germany’s problems by — doing exactly what has led to Germany’s problems.

    However, I think you can make either the German or the French mistakes regarding immigration. They are mutually exclusive.

  11. 11
    mythago says:

    Perhaps they are confronting it by deciding that they don’t want to become a multicultural nation.

    This is the equivalent of inviting people to a dinner party, and then saying “You know, we don’t really want you contributing to the conversation, so you can go sit out on the patio and have a bag of chips while we eat.” If Ireland doesn’t want to be multicultural, how ’bout them strict immigration laws?

    As for ‘separation of church and state’ not appearing in the Constitution, neither do “libel”, “obscenity” nor “clear and present danger”.

    By the way, it may not be clear to you that funding religious schools implicates the Establishment Clause in any way, but it’s pretty clear to most people familiar with Constitutional law. You may also be surprised to hear that many religious groups refuse government funding for precisely the reason that when you take government money, you start getting serious scrutiny of your religious activities.

  12. 12
    Rachel S. says:

    Well stated Sally, mythago, and Inge.

    I wish we had some Irish reader who commented on this thread.

  13. 13
    Sally says:

    Here’s a slightly unhinged column about immigration to Ireland by Kevin Myers, who is kind of professionally slightly unhinged. I’ve never been able to figure out whether anyone actually agrees with Myers or whether he continues to get published because he riles people up and gets attention. At any rate, if you wanted to know what an Irish anti-immigration zealot sounds like, there you go.

  14. 14
    Yusifu says:

    Finally, it’s true that Ireland doesn’t have a colonial history, although it’s important not to forget that prior to independence, a lot of Irish people enthusiastically associated themselves with the British empire, if not with direct British control of Irish affairs. Irish people were agents, and not just victims, of British imperialism, something that until recently has been a bit erased from the official version of Irish history.

    This is an important point, though I wonder how much this is a direct precondition of contemporary Irish racism. Speaking impressionistically (I live in the U.K., not the Republic), to me Irish racism feels much more like Eastern European racism than it does, say, Canadian racism. The analogy isn’t great–British colonial rule was very different in Ireland and Canada, and of course Canadians were themselves engaged in their own colonizing project. I guess you could argue that Eastern Europe also has its own imperial legacies, from Austria-Hungary, Russia, Germany, and the Ottomans, but I’d be inclined to look to the more recent past, especially since imperial collaboration tended to be a relatively elite activity.

    Rachel, I was also speaking impressionistically about the Irish economy, but with some indicators like GDP per capita and PPP it’s extremely strong. It’s also very expensive to visit–prices in the Republic are astronomical–and salaries look very high to outside eyes, unaccustomed to the Irish cost of living. It’s not getting called the “Celtic tiger” for nothing, even if the economy is cooling a bit at present.

    About the conversion to Protestantism, I was speaking of religious change in West Africa. Pentecostalist churches continue to grow fastest, though a lot of their converts were already Christian. The Catholic population is substantial but is smaller than the Anglican population and is a minority of Christians overall. Many of the new Pentecostalists are quite elite–including, for example, Nigeria’s last president. Given how recently the Republic has been an attractive place to move, I would guess that most of the Africans who come over are relatively well off (in terms of their home countries)–it’s gotten a lot harder to pull together the capital necessary for tickets, passports, visas, and so forth; even traveling illegally is much harder than it used to be.

  15. 15
    Steve says:

    For a better grasp of Irish Politics

    http://politicalcompass.org/ireland

  16. 16
    Regan says:

    I’m a little fuzzy on Irish citizenship law, so someone can correct me if I’m wrong.

    It used to be that according to the Irish Constitution, there was birthright citizenship for everyone born on the island of Ireland.

    That’s right; prior to the Citizenship Referendum, anyone born in Ireland was an Irish citizen, regardless of the nationality of their parents. I’m not entirely certain whether or not the non-Irish parents of an Irish citizen child were automatically granted citizenship – I think not, but I couldn’t swear to it – but they were definitely entitled to live in Ireland, as the Constitution states that the parent and child have a mutual right to each others’ society. Once someone has been in the country a number of years, they are entitled to apply for citizenship.

    At the moment, I’m not sure what the situation is, but it seems that a child born to two non-national parents is no longer automatically an Irish citizen. It will be interesting to see how the situation stands around 2009-2010, when kids born after the Referendum are old enough for school, whether or not the issue of citizenship will have any impact.

    To be honest, I think a situation like this one was all but inevitable; there’s been a huge housing boom in recent years but in some areas, the local institutions, including schools simply weren’t equipped to handle a growing population. The sad fact of the matter is that if a school has 100 places available and 200 children are looking for them, they can only accommodate half of those children.

    In some areas, the demand on places is so high that some children have to be turned away. Children whose parents have only recently moved to an area can be at a disadvantage as there will be parents who have had their child’s name on a waiting list since birth – in some cases, even before. The schools can hardly take places away from children whose parents had their names down since they were babies.

    Some of the common enrolment policies, like the policy of giving Catholic children priority at Catholic schools, giving priority to children with older siblings already attending the school or who are children of the school’s alumni, can set immigrants and their children at a disadvantage when it comes to finding school places. Those policies are legal, and I don’t imagine for one moment that they were adopted with the intention of discriminating against the children of foreign nationals but they do make it more difficult for families of a different religion, who may not have lived in the area or the country as long, to get school places.

    I think that it is unreasonable to accuse the Catholic Church of racism where this situation was concerned – if the schools had a surplus of places and were refusing to admit black children, it would be another story.

    One thing I am very curious about is how Minister Hanafin plans to integrate this new school; most parents prefer all of their children to attend the same school, and as I have said, siblings are often given priority so it may be more difficult than she thinks to avoid a repeat of this year’s problem.

  17. 17
    Rachel S. says:

    Regan, I would take this a step further and ask how they plan to integrate the older schools. There are many non-back immigrants (I’m assuming they also live in this town.), especially Eastern Europeans and for whatever reason they weren’t excluded. They need to figure out how to integrate the old schools just as much as they figure out how to integrate the new school.

  18. 18
    Sheryl Colorado says:

    First of all I’m not one to speak as a know it all, however let the truth be known…We who know better are aware that there is only One True Church, the one Jesus Christ purchased with his blood. No one can go into the Word Of God and find any other so-called church, other than the Lord’s Church. God gave Christ all authority ( Acts. 2:36 ), and for the Catholic Church to treat people of color in such a fashion, that tells the world a lot about whom they truly serve! The True Church is Christ Centered. I saw the history of the Catholic Church on the History Channel and such a history is as dark as America’s, if not worst. I am not surprised to read of such modern day racism, because many Irish had their way with many of our Native American and Slave Ancestors, so who in the heck do they think they are kidding? Far as baptism, baptism is an action taken by the true believer who shares in the death and resurrection of Christ, and the Lord God adds that individual to his body, which no man can remove you! If people would only read their bible and know the truth for theirself, then these so-called Catholic and other perpertrators wouldn’t be misunderstood! I see a lot of these people for what they are, and one should ask themself. who died,and shed blood for the Catholic Church? What man? Anyway, I’m putting the truth out there like it ought to be told because deception is what keeps people in the dark and ignorant!

  19. 19
    drumdiva says:

    Kevin Myers writes in his article: “Immigration is now not merely the dominant feature of Irish life, it is the greatest threat to the existence of the Irish nation as a coherent, and cohesive whole”. What’s wrong with the Irish wanting to preserve Irish culture and identity? In this age of global migration, unique cultures and/or national identities are in danger of being wiped out. There’s always an outcry when white European culture threatens indigenous culture, but what about the other way around? What’s so terrible about wanting to preserve one’s cultural and national identity?

  20. 20
    Sally says:

    And the loonies crawl out of the woodwork….

    What’s wrong with the Irish wanting to preserve Irish culture and identity?

    First of all, I just think it’s silly to pretend that there’s a fixed and stable thing called “Irish culture and identity” that people like Myers want to preserve. Myers himself has been highly critical of Irish culture and identity and has advocated changes in both. For instance, he feels that nationalism, in its traditional form, has played far too big a part in Irish life. He has made a personal crusade to try to convince the Irish government to honor Irish men who fought for the British in World War I, instead of just honoring Irish people who fought for independence from Britain at the same time. He thinks that Irish people who believed that Ireland was better off united with Britain should be recognized as patriots who loved their country, rather than traitors who sold it out. This is a pretty major challenge to the dominant conception of Irish identity that has prevailed since the 1920s, and it’s made by Myers, a guy who was born and raised in Britain. Maybe they should deport him!

    Second of all, Irish people have proven really adept, in the past few years, at preserving a sense of Irish culture and identity but changing the content of that culture and identity to suit their new circumstances. Irish society has undergone a truly massive transformation, as Ireland has gone in the space of less than two decades from being one of the poorest countries in Western Europe to one of the richest. It’s gone from being a country in which ambitious young people took for granted that they would probably emigrate to one in which there are more than enough jobs for everyone. It’s gone from a country that was forced to commodify and package its culture for the tourist trade to one which has much more economic and cultural power and can determine how it wants to present itself to the world. If Irish culture and identity were inflexible, they would have broken under the strain of all that change. Luckily, creativity and adaptiveness are pretty fundamental aspects of Irish culture. If you think that Irish people aren’t capable of maintaining an Irish identity while allowing immigrants to participate fully in their society, I think you’re selling Irish people a bit short.

    Finally, the reason that there are immigrants in Ireland is that Irish people have welcomed immigration. Ireland has relied on immigrant workers to fuel its economic growth. Immigrants are not imposing on Ireland. It’s a tad silly to invite people into your country and then think they’ll make no demands on infrastructure. Until we can build extremely intelligent robots, it’s unrealistic to pretend that you can get workers’ labor without having to deal with all the other aspects of their personhood, such as their need for basic services, their desire to have families, and their cultures. I don’t think things have gone especially well for countries that have tried to use immigrant workers’ labor without making provisions for other aspects of their humanity. Because I love Ireland and want what’s best for it, I hope (and believe) they’ll avoid making that mistake.

    Incidentally, Rachel, I think it’s likely that the original school *is* racially integrated. We know that all of the students who didn’t find places were African. We don’t know that all of the students who did find places were white. My sense is that would be unlikely, given the demographics of Dublin’s Northern suburbs.

    Finally, Regan, do you know whether national schools gave preference to Catholic students in the past, or is that a recent development? I guess it probably didn’t come up very often, so maybe it’s a moot point.

  21. 21
    Regan says:

    Regan, I would take this a step further and ask how they plan to integrate the older schools. There are many non-back immigrants (I’m assuming they also live in this town.), especially Eastern Europeans and for whatever reason they weren’t excluded. They need to figure out how to integrate the old schools just as much as they figure out how to integrate the new school.

    The longer the school remains separate, the more difficult it will be to integrate it. Depending on what Minister Hanafin has in mind, she could find herself with a difficult battle ahead of her; under the Constitution, parents have the right to direct their child’s education, so if, Heaven forbid, we have a repeat of the same situation next year, she cannot legally force white parents who have secured a place for their child at the Catholic school to send them to the new school instead, thus freeing up spaces for black children in one school and ensuring that there are some white pupils in the other. The school is also legally entitled to give priority to Catholics and to the siblings of pupils so short of changing the law, I don’t know what she can do.

    The longer a child has attended a school, the less likely their parents are to want to disrupt their education by moving them if the chosen method of integration is simply to swap out X amount of pupils from the new school with children from the Catholic schools especially as, whether it is justified or not (I don’t know what, if any studies have been done and its probably too early to be able to get conclusive answers) I think that there is a fear among some people that the education of children in classes with a large percentage of children who do not speak English as a first language will be compromised by language difficulties.

    Finally, Regan, do you know whether national schools gave preference to Catholic students in the past, or is that a recent development? I guess it probably didn’t come up very often, so maybe it’s a moot point.

    I believe that it’s been a part of the official enrollment policy for most, if not all Catholic schools but in the past, when there was less of a demand for school places, it wasn’t really an issue as schools seem to have been willing to accept non-Catholic pupils if they had the space for them, and to excuse them from Religion lessons.

    A couple of interesting points in Breda O’Brien’s article in Saturday’s Irish Times.

    Here’s another interesting catch-22. If a Catholic patron body, usually a parish priest, applies to build a new school, in normal circumstances he has to put forward a request to the New Schools Advisory Committee.

    To prove that there is a need for a Catholic school, he will have to show that enough children are being baptised in his parish to justify one. In effect, he is being asked for proof of baptisms before a new Catholic school can be built. If, later on, the same school has the temerity to give priority to Catholic children by asking for baptismal certs, it will be bashed around the head for bigotry.>

    Ah, never let the facts get in the way of a good story. St Teresa’s national school, the largest primary school in Balbriggan, is a typical example. It is a Catholic school with about 480 pupils. From senior infants to sixth class, it has about 100 children of non-Irish origin, or newcomer children. Seventy per cent of that 100 are black. Because the school took an extra class of junior infants this year to help out in the crisis, it has about 90 children in those classes, of whom about half are black and one-third are non-Roman Catholic. Incidentally, siblings of non-Catholic pupils get preference over any new Catholic child with no siblings in the school.

    It looks to me as though that school is quite well integrated already, and that they did make every effort to ensure that they provided as many extra school places as their resources allowed but the demand was simply more than they could supply.

  22. 22
    steve white says:

    if the schools have such diverse members then why are they still catholic?

  23. 23
    Regan says:

    if the schools have such diverse members then why are they still catholic?

    Because they are still officially under the patronage of the Catholic church and, in many cases, the school building itself, together with the land that it is situated on, is legally owned by the church. If the schools were to become secular, completely under Government control, then they would have to shell out more money for education and, the way the next Budget is looking, they’re more likely to decrease than to increase spending across the board. Just buying the school land and buildings from the Church would be ruinously expensive.

    Officially, the vast majority of the population are Roman Catholic and over half favour Catholic schools for their children so changes may come very slowly.

    There have been suggestions by the Church that they could divest control of some of the schools in favour of the government, but that’s not without it’s problems. As I’ve said before, parents have the constitutional right to direct the education of their children, so a parent who wishes to send their child to a Catholic school is free to apply there, just as a parent who wishes to send their child to a secular school may apply there. However, Catholic schools – like all religious schools are still entitled to give priority to children of their own faith and if secular schools are more widely available, they can hardly be condemned for giving a place to a Catholic child ahead of a non-Catholic.

    There is a very real risk – especially given the attitude that education in a school with a large percentage of non-English speaking children/black Irish/foreign nationals/etc is compromised by language and cultural difficulties – that it could result in the creation of a two tier system, as Sean Flynn pointed out in The Irish Times on the 25th of September.

    Looking to the future, Archbishop Martin envisages a scenario where the Catholic Church divests control of, for example, two schools in an area where there are five schools.

    Given his open-minded approach, there are clearly opportunities for the State to take over the management of former Catholic schools.

    But there are also real dangers, principally the possible creation of a two-tier system. It is all too easy to envisage a situation where the middle class of old Ireland gravitate towards the traditional, well-established Catholic schools while the newcomer children – and perhaps the less prosperous – will move to the new State-run school.

    Over 50% of Irish parents favour a Catholic school for their child, so if just under half of the Catholic schools are handed over to state control – assuming that the Government is willing to accept responsibility for them – we could end up seeing a situation where primary schools are more segregated than they are now, not less. If we wind up with a “white flight” situation, where the children of the white middle classes are educated separately from the newcomer children and children of less prosperous families, then we could very well see a situation where the schools of the former have access to more resources than those of the latter because their parents will be financially able to make more of a contribution when it comes to fundraising – which seems to be a part of life of almost every school.