NI school changes favour RCs says Protestant group

Protestant churches in Northern Ireland say an overhaul of the education system is denying them the same rights as Roman Catholics.

Their concerns centre around proposed ‘ownership bodies’ which are to manage schools in each educational sector.

The churches currently have automatic representation on education boards, but will have to apply and be appointed to the new ownership bodies of state-controlled schools.

However, the ownership body of each Roman Catholic-controlled school will have a place reserved for a Catholic.

“That seems to us to be a serious injustice and a denial of rights that were given to us,” Revd Ian Ellis told Stormont’s Education Committee.

Revd Ellis is from the Transferor Representatives Council, which represents the interests of Protestant churches in the education system.

He went on: “For example, our Catholic colleagues will continue to have a place by right on an ownership body; they will continue to have decision-making powers, yet Protestant churches will no longer have a role by right in any decision-making regarding the controlled schools estate.

“So there seems to be a huge injustice and disparity about decision-making and the rights of the Protestant community.”

The education department says the reason for the difference in treatment is that the Catholic churches continue to own the schools in their sector while Protestant churches handed over control of theirs to the state in the early 20th Century.

Officials have blamed equality legislation for making it impossible for Protestant ministers to have an automatic right to sit on the ownership bodies.

Basil McCrea, a UUP member of the Education Committee, said: “It is fundamentally unfair if the Roman Catholic Church has got certain rights and the Protestant churches do not,” he said.

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