Dáil Éireann - Volume 321 - 03 June, 1980

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Protestant Schools.

29. Mr. E. Collins asked the Minister for Education if his attention has been drawn to the appeal to the Government by the General Synod of the Church of Ireland for generous financial assistance to ensure the survival of Protestant boarding schools; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

33. Mr. O. J. Flanagan asked the Minister for Education if he is aware of the special educational needs of the Protestant community in regard to school transport, the financing of schools and secondary education, and the difficulties experienced by families living in isolated areas far from schools with the resultant problem of obtaining the required number of pupils for the purpose of establishing schools; and the action he proposes to take to remedy these problems; and if he will make a comprehensive statement on the matter.

Mr. Wilson: With the permission of the Ceann Comhairle, I propose to take Questions Nos. 29 and 33 together.

I have seen the reports referred to. As I explained to a deputation from the Secondary Education Committee for [1353] Protestant Schools, which I met recently, I am very much aware of the special educational needs of the Protestant community. The special needs of Protestant schools are taken into account by my Department in the allocation of grants. In addition to the special block grant paid annually to the Protestant Secondary Education Committee, special provision is also made in the free transport schemes for children attending primary and post-primary schools under Protestant management. Moreover, special remoteness grants are payable to any Protestant pupils who are outside the range of daily transport to a suitable secondary or other second level school.

Successive Ministers for Education, keenly aware of the special difficulties of the Protestant community, particularly in rural areas, have dealt generously with claims for assistance over and above that available to schools generally. I am personally very much aware of the particular difficulties facing the Protestant community in the educational area and will continue to help them in every way open to me to overcome these difficulties.

Mr. E. Collins: In view of the statement made by bishops at that synod, does the Minister intend to take further steps to ensure financial assistance is made available to Protestant boarding schools to ensure that none of them will have to close because of lack of State funds? All Members appreciate that what was done was most acceptable to the House, but will the Minister try to move further and meet the people concerned with a view to giving them the money required to ensure that the boarding schools will prosper?

Mr. Wilson: I have the privilege of having a substantial number of Protestant pupils in my constituency. I am fully aware of the present difficulties. The grants are under consideration and I am pleased to tell the House that the numbers in Protestant schools have been rising steadily in recent times.

Mr. E. Collins: Is the Minister aware [1354] that a child of Protestant parents was refused school transport to a Protestant school——

An Ceann Comhairle: It is not in order to raise that matter.

Mr. E. Collins: ——because there was a community school nearer his family home?

An Ceann Comhairle: That is a separate question.

Mr. E. Collins: The Minister referred to school transport in his reply.

An Ceann Comhairle: It is not relevant here.

Mr. E. Collins: Question No. 33 mentions school transport.

An Ceann Comhairle: It does not refer to a specific case.

Mr. E. Collins: Would the Minister not agree that where parents wish to have their children attend a Protestant school, special arrangements should be made for them?

Mr. Wilson: That is my policy and I intend to adhere to it.

Mr. Horgan: Arising out of the Minister's observations that the number of pupils in Protestant schools is increasing, could he tell the House if all are Protestant children?

Mr. Wilson: I am not so aware.

Mr. Horgan: Has the Minister a breakdown in relation to the religious affiliations of pupils in the secondary schools run by one denomination or another?

Mr. Wilson: No.