The special place of Protestant education should be protected and maintained, argues Drew Nelson, Grand Secretary of the Orange Order. Writing in the Church of Ireland Gazette in response to Dr. Richard O’Leary, he comments “I believe that the right of Protestant parents to have their children educated in a school which reflects their religious ethos is protected in international law.”
He cites the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, adopted by the Council of Europe (of which the Republic of Ireland is a founding member) on 1st February 1995 to support his position.
The Council of Europe first discussed according specific protection for national minorities in 1949, but it was not until 1990 that the Council of Europe made a firm commitment to protect these minority groups. Recommendation 1134 (1990) contained a list of principles which the Assembly considered necessary for this purpose.
The Framework was to become active in 1998. The broad aims of the Convention are to ensure that the signatory states respect the rights of national minorities, undertaking to combat discrimination, promote equality, preserve and develop the culture and identity of national minorities, guarantee certain freedoms in relation to access to the media, minority languages and education and encourage the participation of national minorities in public life.
The Framework commits member- states to the following: Article 12(1) – The parties shall, where appropriate, take measures in the fields of education and research to foster knowledge of the culture, history, language and religion of their national minorities and of the majority. Article 13(1) – Within the framework of their education systems, the parties shall recognise that persons belonging to a national minority have the right to set up and to manage their own private educational and training establishments.
Mr Nelson concludes “The Church of Ireland has a special place in the education system of the Republic of Ireland. Occupying that special place, however, brings particular responsibilities to ensure that it preserves the right of Protestant parents living in the Republic of Ireland to educate their children in a Protestant ethos.”