Churches swap equality for ethos

22nd March 1996 at 00:00
IRISH REPUBLIC. Schools that refuse to appoint approved gender-balanced boards of management may be financially penalised if the Irish Cabinet has its way.

The legislation has been proposed by education minister Niamh Bhreathnach who wants all primary school boards to have equal numbers of parents, teachers, owners and representatives of the wider community. She is also insisting the boards be "gender-balanced" with at least 40 per cent women.

There is already general agreement on the proposals even though they entail the Catholic and Protestant Churches - the legal owners of most of the Republic's schools - giving up majority control of the boards. In return, however, the "ethos" of their schools will be safeguarded.

The minister is also hoping to have these principles of equality of representation and gender balance incorporated into board structures in secondary schools. There are more types of secondary school and some managerial authorities say they will find it difficult to meet the minister's demands. However, refusal could mean state grants and staffing levels being frozen.

Ms Bhreathnach obtained legal advice which suggested that schools had a legitimate expectation of cash from the state. The state, however, as the funding authority, had obligations to the public. The advice suggested that the state had a right to freeze aid at existing levels to those schools that refused to appoint approved boards.

The legislation is due to be introduced into Parliament in the autumn where it faces a controversial passage.

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