This morning on the way to work, I heard a ‘debate’ on Irish radio about the provision of primary education to children in a Balbriggan school. The school in question has been set up under the patronage of an organisation called Educate Together – for those not familiar, an organisation dedicated to the provision of multi- and non-denominational education. This school is now filled with the sons and daughters of recent migrants from Africa and Asia and this has occurred because they could not provide the necessary documentation for the local Catholic primary school to satisfy the entry criteria, amongst others a certificate of Catholic baptism. It may also have happened this way because the Irish parents ensured that they were first in line to register their child four or five years ago (‘oooh, that was great love, do we need to sign that form now’) therefore logically using all their knowledge of how stretched the local schools are to advance their interests.
What was interesting about this ‘debate’ though is that the presenter attempted to create a sense of urgency about the story by basing it on an artificial dualism. The artifice was created by pitching a seemingly intransigent Catholic line – represented on this occasion by the deputy editor of the Irish Catholic newspaper (I know!) – against Newstalk’s own correspondent in situ in Balbriggan’s new school. What followed was a flailing through the entire Irish primary education system with arguments as subtle as a Chelsea fan after their match against United yesterday. The deputy editor kept responding to questions about ‘the Catholic Church’s position ‘ when he had no reason to represent that institution. For most, listening to the deputy editor of an explicitly Catholic newspaper in Ireland means that this is the ‘official line’. There is none, I’ve checked, it’s my job. The correspondent in Balbriggan meanwhile was telling us the ‘truth’ from ‘the ground’ and who can be more authentic than a report from ‘the ground’? Persistent use of that term ugly misnomer ‘non-national’ made this a particularly ugly conflation of race politics and resource allocation.
Broader issues such as the lack of provision of basic educational facilities, the maintenance of what in Ireland is euphemistically called ‘the ethos’ of the Catholic school, parental choice about their child’s primary education and the lack of it, the Department of Education’s inability to add up Census 2002 and 2006 data to plan effectively for the area were lost in this most Manichean of discussions. Good radio? No, not really. Arguments well served? Definitely not. does it fill dead air? For sure.
Am I asking too much for a little bit of subtlety at 8.15 in the morning?