Education, Northern Ireland and rural issues were among the matters raised at a bilateral meeting between representatives of the Church of Ireland and the Irish Government this morning (Friday April 19). The Church of Ireland delegation, led by the Archbishop of Dublin, the Most Revd Dr Michael Jackson, met the Taoiseach, the Minister for Education, the Minister for Children and senior officials from the Departments of Health and Justice in Government Buildings.
One of the key issues raised by the delegation was education. The innovative model of patronage being undertaken with the new secondary school in Greystones, County Wicklow was discussed. The Church of Ireland representatives welcomed the Literacy and Numeracy Strategy in schools. They also commended the Minister for Education on his Action Plan on Bullying.
However, the delegation expressed its concern at the Government’s policy on small schools and the forthcoming Value for Money report. The Church representatives impressed upon the Government that if the suggested figure of 86 pupils is used as a baseline to define a small school, 120 (60 percent) of Protestant primary schools will be affected.
The importance of the Protestant Block Grant to secondary school students and their parents was also emphasised. The School Enrolment Bill 2013 and its affect on the role of boards of management and Patrons in determining their own admissions policies was discussed as was the Ethics and Religious Beliefs Curriculum for primary schools.
On the subject of Northern Ireland there were discussions on the Peace Process and the Belfast Agreement. The Church representatives told the Government of initiatives undertaken by clergy working in the area, particularly in the light of the recent flag protests. The delegation thanked the Taoiseach for the interest he has taken in Northern Ireland and in particular for his participation in the special commemoration services in Enniskillen last year which has been appreciated across the community.
The group highlighted the importance of the 1913-1922 centenary commemorations and expressed the view that they should be sensitive to all traditions on the island of Ireland.
The Church of Ireland delegation reiterated the call for an enquiry into the Bethany Home. Issues affecting rural Ireland under discussion included the implications of the proposed changes to the EU Single Farm Payment Scheme and suicide in rural areas. Care for the elderly was also highlighted with concern expressed about the efficiency of the current provision of home help. The impact of the ABC Judgement and hospital chaplaincies were also on the agenda.
Following the meeting, Archbishop Jackson said that the dialogue process had enabled a wide ranging and informative discussion to take place. He stated: ‘We welcomed the opportunity to explore the broad spectrum of issues raised during the bilateral discussions. I felt that both sides benefited from the free flow of information.’
The Church of Ireland delegation drew representatives from North and South of the island and comprised: the Archbishop of Dublin, the Most Revd Dr Michael Jackson; the Bishop of Clogher, the Rt Revd John McDowell; the Dean of Clogher, the Very Revd Kenneth Hall; Canon Eithne Lynch; and Honorary Secretaries of the General Synod of the Church of Ireland, the Ven Robin Bantry White, Mr Sam Harper and Mrs Ethne Harkness who also represented The Most Revd Dr Richard Clarke, Archbishop of Armagh; and Dr Ken Fennelly, Secretary to the General Synod Board of Education.
This was the first bilateral meeting to take place between the Church of Ireland and the current Government. The meetings between the Government and the Churches are provided for in the EU Constitution and the Lisbon Treaty which committed the Institutions of the EU to maintain an ‘open, transparent and regular dialogue’ with Churches, religious organisations, philosophical and non-confessional organisations (Article 17 TFEU).