An 11-year old girl due to attend a new school in Dún Laoghaire, south of Dublin, is not allowed to wear the hijab at the school premises. The local MP has asked the Minister of Education, Ruari Quinn, to intervene on the behalf of the girl, arguing: “As the school is funded by the State, the minister has an obligation to ensure all children are treated equally and free from discrimination based on religion and dress.”
The Minister of Education, however, in response to a parliamentary question, refuses to intervene citing the 1998 Education Act according to which policies around school uniform and dress are solely determined by the board of management of individual schools.
Under new policy rules for uniforms in Irish schools, the hijab has been deemed allowed in schools, but the burka or other face coverings will be banned. Integration minister Conor Lenihan and education minister Batt O’Keeffe issued the joint recommendation after consulting and reviewing the legal positions in Ireland. A 1988 Education Act obliges schools and personnel to have “respect for diversity of values, beliefs, traditions, languages and ways of life I society.” “In this context, no school uniform policy should act in such a way that it, in effect, excludes students of a particular religious background from seeking enrolment or continuing their enrolment in a school. However, this statement does not recommend the wearing of clothing in the classroom which obscures a facial view and creates an artificial barrier between pupil and teacher. Such clothing hinders proper communication,” said the statement.
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Two main Irish opposition parties said that Muslim girls should not be allowed to wear a headscarf in public schools. Labour party’s Ruairi Quinn stated that immigrants should conform to the culture, and Fine Gael counterpart Brian Hayes said that it makes sense to have one uniform for everyone, citing that the hijab was not a fundamental requirement to be a Muslim, and more of a cultural practice of modesty. “Nobody is formally asking them to come here. In the interests of integration and assimilation, they should embrace our culture,” said Quinn. The spokesperson for the Islamic Society of Ireland said that the comments were baffling and added that the headscarf was a religious obligation. Presently, individual school authorities are responsible for drawing up rules about school uniform requirements. However, the Education Act requires them to respect diversity of all traditions and beliefs.