So the good* Archbishop Martin has admitted that the current position where the Catholic Church controls 92% of the schools in the country "is no longer tenable".
As reported in the Irish Times today, he seems to have accepted that the Church is going to have to let go of its control some of the schools it controls.
Labour's Ruairi Quinn, for one, professes himself happy with the admission. Most of us secularists are ready to congratulate the good* prelate. Another, very different, Quinn (I am of course referring to David) has long been an advocate of a strategic retreat by the Irish Church in education. Even most of the foaming at the mouth catholic integralists at politics.ie (not that they represent anyone) seem to accept that some clawback seems necessary. All in all, one could be forgiven for thinking that peace has broken out.
I'm doubtful, though. The clue as to why is in how the good* Archbishop expresses himself: he reckons Catholic control of 92% of schools in the republic where only 87% of the people are catholic is untenable.
Now there are a couple of observations that can be made about that statement:
The first is that he's using census figures for his percentage of catholics (which are badly skewed, out of date and irrelevant anyway);
The second is that he'd have got closer to the scale of the problem presenting itself to the Irish education system if his sentence had read that Catholic control of 92% of schools is untenable in a state more than 50% of the people would prefer them not to.
In March last year, David Quinn's own Iona Institute published the least embarrassing bits of a Red C Poll they had recently commissioned. I've commented on it before, but suffice it to say that its figures (at least those that David and his friends have chosen not to keep under wraps) have 48% of respondents preferring something either non or multidenominational education for their children! And you can easily imagine what effect the publication of the Ryan Report has had on such figures since the survey was made.
Martin's contrast of 92% as against 87% makes it look like all that needs to be done is that say a BNS in Booterstown and a GNS in Mulhuddart need to be handed over to new patrons and religious harmony will once more bloom in Dublin.
All the relevant figures tell us, however, that currently more like half of catholic schools will need to be handed over before anything like a supply and demand balance is achieved. Whether the Church has the stomach to deal with such a huge loss of control is very doubtful.
Even assuming the Church can swallow losing 240 odd national schools in Dublin, which is very conservatively what demand would seem to indicate is required at primary level (never mind secondary level), there is another factor in the mix. The church's neo-cons have long been opposed to the 'catholic lite' way schools have been run over the last few years (an approach exemplified by the Alive-O programme of religious education), at least partially to prevent a flight of parents from church run schools.
One of the conservative's main motivations for supporting a radical withdrawal of the Church from education is the prospect of being in a better position to concentrate orthodox catholic teaching in their remaining schools, thus ending the 'catholic lite' philosophy. I can only speculate, but if half of nominal catholics don't want catholic lite education for the kids, how many fewer will want the real, unsweetened deal?
Now it may be that the good* Dr. Martin is just flying a kite, or that he feels he's saying something far less radical than Ruairi Quinn (and people like me) are reading into his words, and it may even be that in the end there'll be a roll back and attempt at reconsolidation by the church once a couple of Dublin schools now in the hands of the church have been safely handed over to Educate Together. But assuming the good* Archbishop is serious in his intent, and assuming he has the authority to convert words into action, how far can he and his church stomach going? And could other dioceses follow Dublin's lead?
It needs to be remembered that the reports on Dublin and Cloyne abuse and cover-up are looming, that further scandals will surely emerge and that hopefully there will be a number of prosecutions of abusers and (even more hopefully) some of their prominent protectors in the pages of our newspapers in the nearish future. In the light of all this, one wonders what the level of demand for catholic education will there be at the end of this decade, and what arrangements can be made between school owners and patrons to square this with the extraordinary oversupply of same, especially as compared to the appalling undersupply of other models.
In the Indo article linked above, David Quinn picked what I assume was doomsday figure of having to give up 70% of Irish schools to be left with a truly catholic 30%. It may turn out that the figures he picked will look optimistic (from the church's point of view) in ten years time.
In short, there may yet be an educational revolution underway in Ireland.
I certainly hope so.
*There's no sarcasm in the use of the word 'good'. The man's very, very good. Outside of their vast acreages in Irish suburbia, he's by far the best asset the catholic church have at the moment in Ireland.