Archive for the ‘Rants’ Category

When Derek met Enda

15 February, 2015 3 comments
Atheist Ireland delegation with Taoiseach and Minister for Education

(L-R) John Hamill (Atheist Ireland Blasphemy Campaign Co-ordinator), Derek Walsh (Atheist Ireland committee member, parent and infrequent blogger), Enda Kenny (Taoiseach), Michael Nugent (Atheist Ireland Chairperson), Jan O’Sullivan (Minister for Education and Skills), Jane Donnelly (Atheist Ireland Human Rights Officer)

Last Tuesday, I was part of the Atheist Ireland delegation who met the Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) and the Minister for Education as part of the structured dialogue with churches, faith communities and non-confessional bodies that was set up in 2007. This was the first time an atheist organisation was included in the dialogue process. The bulk of the work for the meeting was done by Atheist Ireland’s Chairperson Michael Nugent, Human Rights Officer Jane Donnelly and Blasphemy Campaign Co-ordinator John Hamill. I was there in my role as a parent, and we were joined by an atheist primary school teacher and an atheist secondary school student, who have chosen to remain anonymous for fear of repercussions.

I had been a little nervous about the prospect of meeting the Taoiseach, but earlier in the day I was interviewed on The Right Hook (listen). Having faced the formidable bulk and probing questions of George Hook, it was hard to be intimidated by the thought of meeting Enda Kenny. And indeed, he was friendly and approachable, and after a bumpy start, appeared to be genuinely interested in what we had to say.

My speech, which I was unable to pare down to the requested two minutes, is below:

My son Leo is five years old and currently in Junior Infants. When my partner and I applied to schools in our area, we found that each school had its own enrolment policy, but the one thing they all had in common was that they considered our son to be less worthy of a place in school than other children. I recently had occasion to talk to the principal of one of these schools, and he explained to me that Leo – as a non-Catholic – was a “Category 2 boy”, to only be considered if there were any places left over after all the “Category 1” applicants had been considered.
Taoiseach, my son is not a “Category 2” child. He is a creative and energetic boy. He can count to ten in five languages. He is obsessed with tall buildings. His favourite food is pizza. He can be cheeky or charming, but never boring. He has an inexhaustible thirst for knowledge. Any school would be lucky to have him. And he is a citizen of this republic and has the right to be given the same opportunities as any other child.
Instead, he was rejected from school after school because the philosophical convictions of his parents did not match the ethos of the school. These schools purport to celebrate diversity, but they systematically weed it out. They claim to be inclusive, but they exclude those who are different.
Eventually we found a school that was willing to accept our child without a certificate of baptism. And while it’s a fine school with caring dedicated teachers, every day – every day for thirty minutes – he is marginalised while Catholicism is taught to his classmates. That time, and the extent of the exclusion, will increase dramatically in a couple of years when Leo’s class begins preparation for First Communion.
We can only hope that we are lucky and that the school we found will be accommodating and the teachers understanding.
But we shouldn’t have to be lucky.
We shouldn’t have to be accommodated. Or tolerated.
We shouldn’t have to hope that teachers will be understanding.
Our freedom of conscience should be respected. Our choice as parents should be respected. Our son’s right to a neutral education should be respected.
And right now, none of that happens.
The way this state treats Leo, and thousands of other children is wrong.
Taoiseach, Minister: you have the power and the opportunity to right that wrong. Please use it.

The response seemed positive and the Taoiseach acknowledged that no child should be considered “Category 2”  based on their parents’ philosophical convictions. The Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan advised us that she is in  the process of drafting an amendment to Section 37 of the Employment Equality Act (which currently allows for such discrimination) It was not clear, at least to me, whether this amendment will prevent such discrimination in the future, but at least the Minister has had the opportunity to hear from people who have been unfairly treated due to the current law.

This is, hopefully, the beginning of a process that will eventually put an end to the systematic discrimination against the non-religious and members of minority religions. How long that process will take remains to be seen. Regardless, I was glad to have had the opportunity to look the leader of my country dead in the eye and tell him that what his government does to my child is wrong.

My Category 1 son

My Category 1 son


What the Book?!

6 September, 2011 1 comment
Man Booker Prize

Image via Wikipedia

Boy, was I wrong! But not as wrong as the Man Booker Prize judges. Here’s the shortlist they’ve just announced:

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt
Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan
Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman
Snowdrops by A.D. Miller

Read more…

Room With A Restricted Worldview

21 January, 2011 1 comment

People have different standards for what’s morally acceptable. I get that. And many people find it difficult to accept that the moral standards and societal norms they grew up with have changed. I get that too. That’s why I sympathise somewhat with Peter and Hazelmary Bull, the Cornwall B&B owners who this week were forced to pay compensation to a gay couple whose holidays they ruined by discriminating against them and refusing to honour their reservation.

The Bulls are no doubt sincere in their beliefs as they were willing to risk legal sanction rather than violate them. But while they’re entitled to their private views, a judge has quite sensibly ruled that they’re not entitled to run a business that interferes with the rights of others to be treated equally. The Bulls will now be free to decide whether they wish to run a business from their home or to refuse to allow gay couples to stay there. They are free to do either but not both. Read more…

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