Professor Eamonn Conway, head of the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at Mary Immaculate, Limerick, addressed The Iona Institute on the subject of denominational schools. His main point was that no Catholic schools should be handed over to other patrons without a guarantee from the Government to respect the ethos of the remaining Catholic schools.
At the meeting in Buswell's Hotel in Dublin, Professor Conway told the audience that a number of the recommendations of the Government's Forum on Patronage and Pluralism posed a serious threat to denominational education.
He said these recommendations if implemented would force denominational schools, among other things, to display all religious symbols along with their own and to vet prayers to ensure they are sufficiently ‘inclusive’.
He also expressed concern at proposals to weaken Section 37 of the Employment Equality Act which protects the right of religious organisations, including schools, to employ only individuals who will respect the ethos of their employer.
Professor Conway said he supported the transfer of some Catholic schools to other patron bodies, but this could not happen without “guarantees regarding the protection of the characteristic spirit of the stand-alone schools that will not be divested”.
He concluded: “Only [with such a guarantee] will our schools not merely be products of a part evangelisation but agents of evangelisation into the future.”