Sunday 16 September 2007

The Conquest of Ireland

The more I think about it the more I believe that the latest proposal from Minister for Integration, Conor Lenihan (that of introducing an English-language requirement in the granting of work or residency permits and citizenship applications) is ill-considered.

I just don't feel that a policy of 'let's be mean to immigrants' works in an Irish context.

The only reason why Ireland is an English-speaking country today is because, beginning about the 16th century, successive waves of foreign hordes arrived on our shores to take up residency, many of them having entered the country illegally it must be said! And despite the best efforts of the native Irish to put obstacles in their way it would seem that they both survived and prospered. Not only did they not integrate with the Irish society that they encountered on arrival, it was in fact we, the Irish, who were assimilated, adopting more and more of their ways until today we find ourselves speaking their language! The same language that Conor Lenihan loves so much.

And now we have people like Conor steadfast in his willingness to preserve and defend that conquest.

16th September 2007

Versions of this post were also published as 'Letters to the Editor' in Irish Independent newspaper of 18th September, 2007 and the website of Village Magazine, 17th September 2007.

Copyright © Oscar Ó Dúgáin, 2007

On Religion in Schools

Niall Gormley has thrown his hat into the ring on the current debate about school management in Ireland - Hands Off Church Schools, Northside People, 12th September 2007. In doing so he invokes fiery, McCarthyite rhetoric, suggesting that's it's all a plot on the part of unidentified liberals to ostracise the Catholic Church and take away control of 'their' schools from them.

As a matter of fact the issues at stake are really quite simple so there is no need to convolute the debate. The problem to be addressed is the removal of religious instruction from the realm of public education. This doesn't even entail the end of religious education itself. It's simply the partisan and proselytising aspects of religion that can have no place in a system which, Niall himself informs us, is 95% state funded.

Further to this it is the state which devises the various curricula and issues guidelines that all schools have to follow. So all in all there really isn't much scope for 'choice' in the type of education parents provide for their children in sending them to Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Jewish schools etc. It could equally be argued that the Educate Together model, in offering non-denominational education, does not extend the scope for choice either. From the standpoint of providing 'educational alternatives' only the gaelscoileanna are offering a unique and distinctive brand but even here the same questions to do with school management arise. What is the broad thrust of education in society? What are it's objectives and how does it serve the common good?

There is no rational reason why children of all faiths and none cannot be educated 'under one roof' so to speak (not to be taken as a comment on the general level of provision for education in this country) once the education system in Ireland steps up to the mark and starts to base itself on an ethos that is universal. So why do we persist in this country in funding a system of segregated education? Does Niall Gormley believe that the state has an obligation to teach 'creationism' alongside Darwinian evolution? Well even if he does, simple economic realism will ensure that this will never happen. Are we really going to send a generation of educationally disadvantaged, Irish youth out into the world and still claim that we have equipped them well for whatever the future has in store? It would be a very drastic change of policy and would most certainly signal the end of the so-called 'celtic tiger'. So does Niall Gormley have a better model for development? If so he should tell us. He might just be the saviour we've all been waiting for.

Personally I am sceptical that this debate has anything at all to do with religion, or even education for that matter. However it may well have everything to do with another, far more pernicious form of segregation which exists in Irish society, in common with all societies. Could it be that the 'parents' right to choose' argument is really just a convenient figleaf to disguise a reluctance on the part of certain sections of the rich in society (even if only relatively rich) to send their children to the same schools as the poor (be it relative or absolute poverty)? Is equality best achieved by raising everyone up or by dragging everyone down? That is the real crux of the question.

14th September, 2007

Copyright © Oscar Ó Dúgáin, 2007

A Question of Language

Minister for Integration, Conor Lenihan wants to see proficiency in the English language become a prerequisite for residency, the issuing of work permits and ultimately Irish citizenship for people entering the country.

He has even mooted the provision of English language courses as a means of assistance.

I wonder if the minister would himself consider enrolling on one of these courses if and when they come on stream.

Listening to him being interviewed by Mary Wilson on RTE's Drivetime programme today I'm not at all sure I understood what he was talking about. Presumably Conor Lenihan does not propose to make any measures retrospective or to apply to existing citizens.

12th September, 2007

Versions of this post were also published as 'Letters to the Editor' in Irish Independent newspaper of 13th September, 2007; Irish Examiner newspaper of 14th September, 2007 and the website of Village Magazine, 12th September 2007.

Copyright © Oscar Ó Dúgáin, 2007


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