Tolerance, recognition and educational patronage
Ireland’s constitutional politics of school choice
in Tolerance and diversity in Ireland, North and South
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Public education in Ireland is provided through private ‘patrons’ which are still typically, if not exclusively, religious-denominational bodies. Historically this patronage model was based on an understanding of religion as a public good and as an anchoring point of national identity. Correspondingly, it offered a framework for the recognition of the dominant religious identity as well as the toleration of minority religions – at least within the limits of practicability. However, the patronage model has increasingly been defended with reference to the secular goods of ‘diversity’ and ‘choice’. Accordingly the constitutional framework has been understood as a means of protecting parental ‘choice’ understood in religiously-neutral terms, rather than as protecting religious identity as such. And while religious freedom in education is reductively understood in the quasi-utilitarian terms of parental preference, the right to ‘choice’ is precarious and unequally distributed. This chapter argues that since the new politics of school choice treats religious and non-religious identities as disaggregated consumer preferences rather than as constitutive identities, it has largely superseded any concept of toleration as a normative framework or legitimation strategy for educational power structures.


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