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Senator Bacik calls for debates on Special Needs Provision and the Patronage of Schools

27 January 2010

Order of Business

Senator Ivana Bacik: We see matters going to the brink in the Northern Ireland talks. We all hope for a positive outcome later today. As a member of the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, I have seen an immense amount of goodwill on the new committee, formed after the previous general election, that brings together elected representatives from both sides of the Border and all areas of this island. I hope the immense positivity on that committee will pay off in terms of a positive resolution today.

I echo Senator Fitzgerald's call for a debate on special needs provision with the Minister for Education and Science. Yesterday I called for the Minister for Education and Science to come into this House for a debate on the future of universities. I am grateful to the Leader for indicating he is agreeable to having this take place. There is immense concern among academics and those who rely on the products of academia — graduates — to build our knowledge-based economy about this drastic reduction in funding of on-line journal access. This will undermine research and teaching.

The Minister for Education and Science has been notable by his absence from this House. We need him in here on a number of debates. A critical one is that to which Senator O'Toole referred, namely, the patronage of schools. Deputy Ruairí Quinn wrote an excellent article in yesterday's The Irish Times setting forth the Labour position, which seeks change in the system of patronage and recognises that it is no longer appropriate in today's multicultural Ireland. Senator O'Toole referred to the Murphy report and he is quite correct about the concerns it raises in respect of Catholic bishops and priests being so closely involved in the day-to-day running of schools. There is a bigger issue about parental choice. Throughout Ireland parents are voting with their feet and inundating new multidenominational schools run by Educate Together and other bodies to the point where they have enormous waiting lists and cannot cope with the demand yet there are places to spare in Catholic schools. In my area, Dublin South-East, and also in Dublin South-Central, we see an incredible misfit between the number of Catholic places available and the tiny number of multidenominational places, even though parents demand a multidenominational, more pluralist education for their children. We need to debate this point with the Minister and we need a national forum on patronage of primary schools. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Education and Science to come into this House to debate education at all levels.