14/04/2010

Irish Protestant School Funds Defended

There has been a fresh development in an ongoing funding battle for Protestant schools in the Irish Republic.

The DUP Deputy Leader Nigel Dodds has this week promised to express to the Irish Government in the "strongest possible" terms the views of concerned parents from Protestant schools in the Republic facing budget cuts.

"I don't think there can be any doubt over the level of real concerns and worry these parents are facing," Mr Dodds said, after meeting a delegation from the Southern Protestant Alliance at Stormont.

Mr Dodds said he shared the parents' views that the cuts to grants paid to Protestant post-primary schools in the Republic were "discriminatory".

Last October, in an address to the Dublin and Glendalough Diocesan Synod, the Protestant Archbishop of Dublin Dr John Neill strongly criticised last year's Budget decision to remove certain funding from Protestant Schools and cut their teacher entitlement.

Dr Neill said he believed the decision was not a financial consideration but an "unjust" and "doctrinaire" strike at the sector.

At the time, the then Minister for Education Batt O'Keeffe said he would meet representatives of Protestant secondary schools to discuss the effects of the cutbacks on them.

Now, the Democratic Unionist Party's concerns are bring added to the debate: "The fears would appear to be very legitimate, and there is a real fear that some schools could face closure," Mr Dodds said this week.

"While I recognise that this is a matter for the Irish government, I certainly will be raising the matter with Irish officials at the earliest opportunity."

The DUP Assembly Member said his wife and MEP Diane Dodds "may be raising the matter at Brussels to look at human rights and equality issues" surrounding the cuts.

Esmond Gordon, Secretary of Southern Protestant Alliance, described the Stormont meeting as "another major step forward" in their campaign to have the decision reversed.

"We underlined the effect that these cuts will have on Protestant schools in the Republic and on the Protestant ethos," said Mr Gordon.

"We are concerned about the future of Protestant schools in the Republic, and we are worried that some of them will be forced into closure, which would be a disaster."

The group - which said up to half of the 28 post-primary Protestant schools in the Republic could face closure - are planning to meet with the Republic's new Education Minister, Mary Coughlan, in the coming weeks.

See: Education Minister To Meet Protestant Schools

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