Black Children Left Out of Irish Schools
By SHAWN POGATCHNIK
Associated Press Writer
Newsday.com4:53 PM EDT,
September 3, 2007
DUBLIN, Ireland – Almost all the children who could not find elementary school places in a Dublin suburb this year were black, the government said Monday, highlighting Ireland's problems integrating its increasingly diverse population.
The children will attend a new, all-black school, a prospect that educators called disheartening.
About 90 children could not find school places in the north Dublin suburb of Balbriggan , a town of more than 10,000 people with two elementary schools. Local educators called a meeting over the weekend for parents struggling to find places and said they were shocked to see only black children.
“That overwhelmed me. I'm not quite sure what to make of it. I just find it extremely concerning,” said Gerard Kelly, principal of a school with a mixture of black and white students in the nearby town of Swords.
The parents at Saturday's meeting in a Balbriggan hotel said they had tried to get their children into local schools but were told that all places had to be reserved by February.
Almost all of the children are Irish-born and thus Irish citizens, under a law that existed until 2004.
Some parents questioned why white families who had moved this year into the town had managed to overcome the registration deadlines to get their children into schools.
Some also complained that Ireland's school system was discriminating against them on the basis of religion. About 98 percent of schools are run by the Roman Catholic Church, and the law permits them to discriminate on the basis of whether a prospective student has a certificate confirming they were baptized into the faith. Some of the African applicants were Muslim, members of evangelical Protestant denominations or of no religious creed.
Education Minister Mary Hanafin said the problems reflected bad planning amid rapid population growth, not racist attitudes at existing schools. She vowed to get the new school, which will take students aged 4-12, integrated with white students as soon as possible.
“I would not like to see a situation developing where it is an all-black school, so it's something to keep an eye on for next year's enrollments,” Hanafin said.
Kelly said some parents, both locals and immigrants, “felt forced or coerced to have their child baptised to get a place in their local Catholic school.”
More than 25,000 Africans have settled in Ireland since the mid-1990s. Most arrived as asylum seekers, and many took advantage of Ireland's law — unique in Europe — of granting citizenship to parents of any Irish-born child. Voters toughened that law in a 2004 referendum.