I move amendment No. 33:
In page 18, between lines 19 and 20, to insert the following new subsection:
"(6) Where an educational or training body wishes to apply to reserve places in a vocational training course it shall, after consultation with the Authority, prepare and publish a statement describing the religious ethos of the institution and explaining why it proposes to reserve places. Such a statement shall be prepared and published by the persons responsible for the day to day management of the institution.".
Members of these Houses have probably had an earful of this topic over the past five years. It is true these sections have been scrutinised by the Supreme Court and found, to the surprise of many people, to be constitutional. However, the judges said that just because a provision is strange or anomalous does not render it repugnant to the Constitution.
I am happy to send my children to a denominational school because I value a great deal about that. However, I greatly resent institutions which are not directly involved using education, training and health as instruments of power by proxy. The purpose of these amendments is to render accountable the power contained in sections 12 and 37 to give some rights to defend religious ethos in its variety of fashions.
This Bill is extraordinarily carefully worded in many ways but it leaves the Minister with the power to extend the application of section 12 beyond the named institution, which is the Adelaide Hospital. We all understand why this is being done and agree with it. However, section 12(4)(b) refers to "or places in a vocational training course specified in an order made under subsection (5)".
Subsection (5) allows that where an education or training body applies to the Minister for Education and Science or the Minister for Health and Children "for an order permitting the body concerned to reserve places in a vocational or training course offered by the body" the Minister may "by order allow the body to reserve places in such as number as seem reasonably necessary. to meet the purposes set out in subsection (4)". The purpose of subsection (4) is to ensure the availability of nurses and primary school teachers of a particular denomination.
If people believe they have a right to this — and most of society would accept that principle, in so far as it is honestly articulated — then we, as a society, are entitled to know precisely what they want. Orders under this section to extend this privilege to reserve places ought to be made in as public, transparent and accountable a fashion as possible, so that they do not do more than is intended under this legislation.
Amendment No. 33 states that:
Where an educational or training body wishes to apply to reserve places in a vocational training course it shall, after consultation with the Authority [it seems appropriate to specify consultation with the Employment Equality Authority], prepare and publish a statement describing the religious ethos of the institution and explaining why it proposes to reserve places. Such a statement shall be prepared and published by the persons responsible for the day to day management of the institution.
I used that language in the amendment, which is similar in spirit to one which I have tabled later, because if people wish to seek recognition of their ethos they ought to have to explain to us what is meant by that ethos. It ought not to be a moving target so that, depending on which issue they wanted to make difficult for people at a particular time, they could invoke vaguely worded provisions and argue in private with the Minister for Education and Science or the Minister for Health and Children. Where people want to exercise these rights, they should make public the basis on which those rights would be exercised.
This is a very simple request which is not trying to take anything from them or to inhibit their right to look after the well being of the schools or hospitals which concern them. It is simply saying that we are entitled to know what is meant by an ethos and that that knowledge must have a legal basis.
These rights should be sought by the people who run the institutions concerned; it should not be a matter of the Catholic hierarchy or the Church of Ireland hierarchy negotiating with the Government. Too often, good people in education or health care must front power plays operated by other people, which is why amendment No. 33 specifies that the statement should "be prepared and published by the persons responsible for the day to day management of the institution".
I have never been very keen on the grouping of amendments but I am even less keen in this case because it is unfair both to the House and to me to have to jump from section 12 to section 37, but that is how it is. Section 37 was trumpeted across the nation, often from a position of hostile, illiberal liberalism. Some people seem to wish to use legislation to force things on others that they should not be asked to accept. I have no problems with denominational education. However, I have a problem with the use of denominational education to enforce a view of Roman Catholic or Church of Ireland morality. When section 37 makes an exclusion of discrimination on particular grounds and in certain employments, particularly in the cases of religious, educational or medical institutions, the right is being given to give favourable treatment on religious grounds to an employee over another person where it is reasonable to do so.
Short of saying "where it is in the opinion" of somebody, that wording is about as weak as one could use, and there are a variety of attempts to change it. Senator O'Toole and I want to insert "taking all the circumstances into consideration" and to substitute "reasonable" with "necessary". People ought to be able to demonstrate these things. If it is necessary to discriminate between people on religious grounds because the ethos of the school is at risk, that should be open to intelligent people's scrutiny. It should not be done behind closed doors by interview panels that are accountable to nobody but the bishop or whoever the patron is. The process should be open; let us have the reasons why it is necessary to do so, not why it is reasonable to do so.
Many people have tremors of horror at the provision that the institution "takes action which is reasonably necessary to prevent an employee or a prospective employee from undermining the religious ethos of the institution." Who undermines the ethos of an institution? Is it the eminent secondary school teacher, who owns 15 slum dwellings in a small town and rips off the poor, or is it the person living with someone who is not their spouse? I know which has been sacked and which has not. These amendments relate to leaving the privilege or right of denominational education to those who wish to have it, but not leaving prejudice and antiquated concepts of morality to them. Those have nothing to do with a proper Christian ethos.
My amendments require a school to show that an action has to be proven to be necessary to prevent an employee or prospective employee from undermining the religious ethos of a school. It is one thing to say we cannot have a collection of people with militantly atheistic views propagandising our young people; it is another to say that people who are not accountable to us, to the Minister or anybody else, can look at somebody and say: "It is reasonable to believe that something you are doing is undermining the religious ethos of the institution." Those people do not have to define the ethos of the institution. It is likely that a board of management will not make such a decision.
I appreciate that the wording here is essentially that of the previous legislation. To quote the Supreme Court on another matter, this is "a strange and anomalous provision". That does not mean it is unconstitutional, but it is assuredly strange and anomalous. I appeal to the Minister to look at these amendments. He should at least ask those with these extraordinary powers to be more accountable to those of us who fund them, who give them their legal rights and who entrust our children to them.