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Liberals back old morality

IRELAND. A face from the past has come back to haunt the centre-left coalition government which is about to enact controversial legislation dealing with discrimination at work.

The case of Eileen Flynn became a cause cel bre in the early 1980s when she was sacked from her convent teaching school. She had been in a relationship with a married man and had become pregnant.

The official reason for her dismissal was that her lifestyle was not in keeping with the Catholic ethos and mores of the institution in which she worked.

The sacking was denounced at the time by liberals of all political hues, some of whom are now members of a government that is about to copperfasten the right of the churches to discriminate against teachers on religious grounds.

Church-owned schools and medical institutions will be entitled to give more favourable treatment to an employee or prospective employee "where it is reasonable to do so in order to maintain the religious ethos of the institution".

They may also take action that is "reasonably necessary to prevent an employee or a prospective employee from undermining the ethos of the institution".

The government says that this amended clause in the Employment Equality Bill is constitutional and reflects existing broadly accepted provisions giving preference to an institution's co-religionists. This was in response to concerns expressed by the minority Protestant churches that they would not be able to ensure the ethos of their schools.

However, the government has also inserted an amendment to the effect that if teachers feel they have been unfairly discriminated against, they may take a claim before a director of equality investigations.

The Bill and the amendments have been strongly criticised by the country's biggest teacher union, the Irish National Teachers' Organisation. A small ginger group called Teachers for Pluralism in Education has convinced Eileen Flynn to break her silence of over a decade to join in the campaign against the Bill.

She told The TES that she felt a moral obligation to speak out: "I'm amazed that, 15 years on, the bishops are still the main players on the chessboard of Irish education," she said.

The Bill has passed through the Dail, the lower house of Parliament, and is almost certain to pass through the Seanad, the upper house.

The Campaign to Separate Church and State said that if it does, President Robinson would be petitioned to refer it to the Supreme Court to test whether it was constitutional.

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