State Papers

Concerns raised by the Irish government about 'discrimination' in funding between State and Catholic schools

Confidential files are released today in Belfast under the 20/30 Year Rule
Éamon Phoenix

CONCERNS were raised by the Irish government about "discrimination" in funding between State and Catholic schools in 1991, according to confidential files released this week.

A report from the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights (SACHR), alleging Catholic maintained schools were underfunded compared to Protestant-controlled schools, was raised by Irish ministers at a meeting of the Anglo-Irish inter-governmental conference.

Dublin's Foreign minister Gerry Collins told the discussions on July 16, 1991 he believed the SACHR report on discrimination was particularly relevant to the areas of education and fair employment.

He asked the Northern Ireland secretary Peter Brooke at the meeting if the British government had formed any views on the report.

Northern Ireland paymaster-general, Lord Belstead told the discussions that the British government were taking the report's recommendations "very seriously" but pointed out that the statistics covered the early to mid-1980s.

He said recommendations had been made that the department of education should carry out routine monitoring of educational policy and practice in the parallel religious school systems.

It was also suggested a full-scale review should be launched into the 15 per cent voluntary contribution to capital building works incumbent on voluntary (mainly Catholic) schools.

Lord Belstead added that he and Mr Brooke had already begun the review and had opened a dialogue with the Catholic Church authorities.

He admitted there was a clear case to be answered and that there had been historic under-funding of certain schools which he would wish to look at carefully.

However, he did not accept under-funding was always wrong, or indeed, discriminatory.

The meeting heard that consultants had found Maintained (Catholic) schools had received lower per capita funding than Controlled (Protestant) schools.

Mr Collins said in his view, the voluntary contribution to capital works in Catholic schools was bound to have a negative impact on the relative capacity of the Catholic and Protestant school sectors to provide facilities such as science laboratories.

Mr Collins pointed to a system in England and Wales, which allowed church-run schools to receive 100 per cent funding while maintaining their Church management.

He asked if the British had any plans for such scheme.

Lord Belstead said resistance to full funding had come from the Catholic bishops and the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS), which saw such arrangements as militating against planning for Catholic education.

Mr Brooke said he would ask officials to investigate the funding system in England and Wales further.

This was to lead to the introduction of parity of funding for Catholic and State schools by the direct rule administration in the mid-1990s.

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