Thursday, 26 March 2009
Dáil Eireann Debate
184. Deputy Brian Hayes asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will make a statement in regard to his recent meeting with a group (details supplied) on the removal of a special service support grant to certain schools. [12677/09]
Minister for Education and Science (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe): I met with representatives of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland on 10 March. This was a historic meeting and was the first time that members of the Orange Order had sent a delegation to discuss an educational issue within this state.
I outlined the background to the block grant, which is expected to be €6.5 million in this school year. It covers capitation, tuition and boarding costs and is distributed through the Secondary Education Committee established by the churches concerned. Applications for assistance are made by parents to the Secondary Education Committee which, on the basis of a means test, distributes the funds to individual schools on the basis of pupil needs. This fund ensures that necessitous Protestant children can attend a school of their choice. I confirmed that there were no changes to this grant and that I would be willing to consider increasing it when the public finances permit.
We discussed also the meeting I had with representatives of the Church of Ireland Board of Education, led by Archbishop John Neill, on 13 November last, at which I expressed my willingness to consider any proposals that might be made to my Department that would enable the available funding to be focused and adjusted to more effectively meet the twin objectives of access for individuals and sustaining the dispersed schools that they wish to attend. The Bishops are to respond on how the funding I am continuing to make available might best be deployed to meet the needs of their schools. I can advise the Deputy that I recently received correspondence from the Secondary Education Committee who have sought a meeting with my officials to progress the matter.
I emphasised to the representatives of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland that I, along with my colleagues in Government, recognise the importance of ensuring that students from a Protestant background can attend a school that reflects their denominational ethos. The meeting was constructive and I expressed my willingness to schedule further meetings if it would be considered helpful.
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