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4.1 Summary of Legislation relating to National Schools

As stated in the introduction, there is very little legislation relating to National Schools in Ireland. The current legislation consists of the following:

  1. The Constitution of 1937 – supreme
  2. The Stanley Letter of 1831 – subject to the Constitution
  3. The 1998 Education Act – subject to the Constitution
  4. The Equal Status Act 2000 – subject to the Constitution
  5. The Rules for National Schools – subject to 1,2,3,4
  6. International and European Legislation

Effectively, the Stanley Letter of 1831 remains the primary legislation controlling National Schools. In the negotiations for Independence from Britain in 1921, the importance of the National Schools system was recognised by both sides, and the primary provisions of the Stanley Letter were incorporated in Article 16 of the Angle-Irish Treaty of 1921 “Neither the Parliament of the Irish Free State nor the Parliament of Northern Ireland shall make any law so as to …….affect prejudicially the right of any child to attend a school receiving public money without attending religious instruction at the school……”. This provision was copied directly into the Article 44.2.4 of the 1937 Constitution and remains in force today.

However changes have been brought into the National Schools which are subverting the Constitutional provisions. In 1965 the Rules for National Scools were changed to allow for recognition of the denominational ethos of National Schools. In the 1970s, an integrated curriculum was allowed, whereby religious instruction could be spread throughout the school day, and throughout different academic subjects, so that separation of religious instruction was eliminated, and the right to remove a child from religious instruction was undermined.

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