Gaelscoil Thulach na nOg was established as an 'inter-denominational' school a number of years ago and Tomás O Dulaing was appointed as its first principal. 'Inter-denominational' - in the context of Irish primary education - means that there are children from the two main religions - Roman Catholic and Church of Ireland, taught side by side. When the school was established, the question of how to deal with the teaching of religious doctrine or truths was not clarified. The principal, teachers, parents and Board of Management - with the agreement of the patron body - set about a long consultative process aimed at formulating a policy acceptable to all.
At the conclusion of this process, a policy was drawn up and agreed by all involved in the consultations. This policy stated that all matters common to both religions would be taught during normal school hours to all pupils, but that matters of 'truth' (ie matters accepted as truth by only one religious denomination such as First Holy Communion for Roman Catholics) would be taught outside of school hours.
However when this policy was submitted to the patron body for their approval, they insisted that such an approach was not acceptable and that all religion should be taught during school hours. What this would in effect mean would be that the non-Catholic pupils would be made to sit in the classroom while matters particular to the Catholic doctrine were taught, thus showing up in the most obvious way possible to the majority that these children were in some way 'different'.
As an anarchist I obviously have very strong views on the proper place for religion in education and elsewhere - outside the door to put it politely. The issues at stake in this case were not however a refusal to teach religion, in fact all teachers expressed a willingness to do so. What was at stake was a straight question of democracy - were this patron body to be allowed to overturn a decision arrived at after long consultation and agreed by all the school community - parents, teachers and Board of Management?
The first result of the patron's decision was a shift in the balance of power on the management board, with a majority backing the patron's stance. O Dulaing as principal however stood by the democratically-arrived-at policy and wrote a letter to the parents outlining his stance. It was ultimately for writing this letter that he was sacked, with the patron claiming that his sacking had nothing to do with religion but was purely an industrial relations matter.
Despite retaining at all times the support of all the teachers and 80% of the parents in the school, O Dulaing's suspension in April was followed - after a series of so-called appeals that looked to the outside observer to be mere window dressing - by his dismissal. It was ultimately the failure of his union, the INTO (Irish National Teachers Organisation), to treat the matter as 'an industrial relations matter' that allowed the dismissal to happen. This despite the fact that this year's INTO annual congress had given unanimous backing to O Dulaing.
When the sacking took place, INTO general secretary John Carr responded by describing it as 'disproportionate' and 'unreasonable' and live on RTE News demonstrated just how seriously the INTO leadership was taking the case when he announced that it would be discussed as a matter of urgency by the Central Executive Committee - three weeks later!!
What Should Have Been Done??
Words of regret after the sacking, even meetings, pickets or rallies which might be organised (at the time of writing - over a month later - just one public meeting has been called) are all well and good but the fact remains that had effective industrial action been taken the sacking would not have taken place. In short if the INTO leadership had fought the issue on an industrial relations/political level rather than on a legal/'keep your head down' one, O Dulaing would still be principal of the school.
At the very least, the following should have happened:
This dismissal raises many questions for teachers about the role of religion in Irish primary education. Even further it raises serious issues for INTO members about the failure of the union to defend its members from bullying and intimidation by the unaccountable 'owners' of the schools in which we work.
Member Dublin City North Branch Committee INTO (writing in personal capacity)
* Primary schools are managed by Boards of Management which are answerable to patron bodies. In the case of denominational schools (ie the vast majority of all primary schools) the patron is the local bishop. The patron body for multidenominational/non-denominational schools is an organisation called 'Educate Together' while about 40 gaelscoils (schools in which teaching is done through the Irish language) are under the patronage of An Foras Patrunachta. A couple of these are multidenominational and 8 of them are 'inter-denominational'.
This edition is No72 published in September 2002