A Fianna Fáil Senator has published legislation which would remove the freedom of faith schools to protect their ethos. Senator Averil Power claimed the legislation is needed to prevent discrimination against gay, lesbian and bisexual teachers. Party leader Micheál Martin declared his full support for the legislation.
Senator Power, who is the party’s spokesman on education and skills in Seanad Éireann, said the Programme for Government contains a commitment to change the status quo which allows a school to claim that hiring a gay teacher would undermine their religious ethos. However, nothing had been done to date in relation to it, she said.
Senator Power, who described the current situation as “completely unjust”, said she was putting it up to the Government by publishing legislation and calling on it to accept it. As the law stands, she said, a school could claim that hiring a gay teacher would undermine its religious ethos. This safeguard for schools is specifically granted under Section 37 of the Employment Equality Act.
“Over 90 per cent of Irish primary schools are under Catholic management. Such schools could be entitled to refuse to hire a gay or lesbian teacher or principal. Many teachers therefore feel compelled to hide their sexual orientation from their colleagues and pretend to be someone they are not. Our Bill would tackle this injustice and prohibit discrimination against LGB teachers.”
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said that as a republican party, “a commitment to fighting discrimination in all forms is a core value for Fianna Fáil.” He praised the introduction of civil partnership by the last Government as “a major step forward for gay and lesbian couples.”
The Bill was welcomed by the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN) and the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Group. Director of education policy at GLEN Sandra Irwin-Gowran admitted that no case has ever been brought which alleges discrimination in that context, but said “the threat implied by Section 37.1 has acted as a ‘chill factor’ for lesbian and gay teachers.”
The Irish Times. February 20.
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