Chapter 5 analyses structural developments and the place of religion in the current Irish education system. It also gives an overview of contemporary debates on the denominational and segregated nature of the system. Despite significant religious decline (both in terms of numbers and social influence), the Catholic Church has managed to retain control over the vast majority of Irish schools. While it is now prepared to accept the transfer of some schools to other patrons, it has in the main tried to maintain its influence, developing a discourse of inclusiveness. Teacher and parent organisations and other educational actors have been voices for change (with public opinion polls also showing support for significant change), in contrast to the political mainstream. Even if there have been differences of political inflexion, with an attempt since 2010 at encouraging a diversification of patrons in the name of ‘parental choice’, the Irish State has kept to its historical role as funder of schools managed by private patrons, the current result being a perpetuation of the system along with a relative increase in the number of Educate Together schools especially, raising the issue of a new form of segregation.
Chapter 6 discusses current structural trends in the education system from the perspective of inclusion, civic and social equality, looking at the diversification of school types and the involvement of private interests and their consequences in terms of school segregation, continuing discrimination and the issue of democratic legitimacy in the whole system. Until now the Irish State has worked to preserve legal forms of discrimination through exemptions to equality legislation, ultimately subordinating the rights of all individual members of the school community to those of particular groups (mainly religious bodies) acting as private patrons, with the exception of the Education and Training Boards. The human rights of children, including the right to freedom of conscience, have been ignored by the Irish State, despite calls from various United Nations Committees and from local groups to eliminate all discrimination in admission policies and within schools. Competing understandings of the notion of community (cultural/religious vs local) along with the market-based idea of parental choice, have contributed to maintaining school segregation along religious, social and even indirectly ‘racial’ lines, going against the idea of a local common school for all children upheld notably by the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation.
Separate but equal? Schools and the politics of religion and diversity in the Republic of Ireland focuses on the historical and current place of religion in the Irish education system from the perspective of children’s rights and citizenship. It offers a critical analysis of the political, cultural and social forces that have perpetuated the patronage system, looks at the ways in which the denominational model has been adapted to increased religious and cultural diversity in Irish society and shows that recent changes have failed to address persistent discrimination and the absence of respect for freedom of conscience. It relates current debates on the denominational system and the role of the State in education to Irish political thought and conceptions of national identity in Ireland, showing the ways in which such debates reflect a tension between nationalist-communitarian and republican political outlooks. There have been efforts towards accommodation and against instances of discrimination within the system, but Irish educational structures still privilege communal and private interests and hierarchies over equal rights, either in the name of a de facto ‘majority’ right to religious domination or by virtue of a deeply flawed and limited view of ‘parental choice’.
Drawing on the work of sociologists of education and law specialists, chapter 7 highlights forms of discrimination and inequality inherent to the denominational nature of the education system, despite the efforts made by many school heads and teachers to welcome children from different cultural and religious backgrounds, in line with the discourse of inclusiveness of most school patrons. The concept of school ethos has been used in the Irish context to legitimise the transmission of the particular sets of cultural and moral values of patrons in their respective schools, with problematic consequences in terms of respect for the freedom of conscience and religion of both adults and children in the school community, and it has helped perpetuate the segregated school system. The chapter engages with the question of the ethical and civic role of schools, the idea of transmitting specific communal moral codes being contrasted with that of nurturing children’s autonomy of thought (notably through philosophy) and a human rights-based morality within a pluralist, democratic society. The particular cases of the new Community National Schools and Educate Together schools with their democratic value-base are examined briefly, with a focus on the Educate Together organisation’s paradoxical outlook.
Chapter 2 gives an insight into the main social transformations in the Republic of Ireland since the 1960s and the consequences of these developments for the place of religion in contemporary society and in the dominant representations of Irish national identity, within the political sphere in particular. These transformations include the on-going process of relative secularisation, along with a wider sociocultural and religious diversification that was accelerated by significant levels of immigration in the 1990s and 2000s. These changes have sparked a public debate on the place of the Christian tradition and identity in the Irish public sphere and on the Irish State as a Christian nation (with communitarian undertones) or as a republican nation.
Chapter 7 charts how community-based activism led to a pragmatic move into mainstream politics. Initially this meant the Labour Party, which was then dominant locally, was most immigrant friendly, and had also been supportive in the independence struggle. Bengalis subsequently joined all main parties, despite the Liberals’ notoriously racist campaigns in the 1990s, and became a major part of the council establishment. The chapter looks at how resistance to Bengali membership of the Spitalfields Labour Party was overcome by intervention of left-wingers, and how, when the party wouldn’t choose a Bengali to stand as a councillor, one got elected as an independent. It looks at patronage networks, prejudice encountered by political women, continued distrust of the ‘white left’, potential conflicts between representing the Bengali community and representing all constituents, and the demand for a Bengali MP. It ends by looking at the use of multiculturalism as a progressive veneer, and the impact of partnership governance in strengthening ethnic and faith organisations and tying them to council norms.
Chapter 6 provides a detailed examination of the impact of identity politics. It begins with a critical look at the development of black radical ideas, their dismissal of the ‘white working class’, and their failure to set out how sectorial struggle could lead to working-class unity. It concentrates on the experience of the Bengali Housing Action Group, a squatters’ organisation coordinated by black radical activists from Race Today, and on anti-racist resistance spearheaded by second generation Asian Youth Movements. These campaigns succeeded in securing homes for many families and in generating a sea-change in community consciousness and confidence as Bengalis asserted their right to stay in Britain and be treated decently. However they left a legacy of geographical clustering and of separate community-based organisation that failed to address wider socio-economic inequalities. The chapter compares this identity politics with the 1930s, when the Communist Party used campaigns against racism and for better housing to unite the working class across the racial divide, to undercut support for fascism, and to build support for left ideas. It concludes by looking at how public money has been used to incorporate once-radical organisation into the establishment and institutionalise competition between different community groups.
Chapter 4 looks at the Bengalis’ continued links with their now independent homeland and with its politics (which it outlines), as the London community consolidated and settled and men were joined by their wives and families. This is a smaller scale politics, with different groups taking different positions, but it involves strong loyalties. As well as activity in Britain and the influence of immigrant money, the chapter discusses direct political involvement by returned immigrants and the possibilities of two centred politics. It also discusses the relative disenchantment of the younger, British-educated generation, and continued bonds with Bangladesh that are less overtly political, such as through regional organisations and their charitable activities. The chapter includes a discussion of the different meanings of secularism, and a critical examination of the growing conflicts between secular and religious politics.
This exploration of one of the most concentrated immigrant communities in Britain combines a new narrative history, a theoretical analysis of the evolving relationship between progressive left politics and ethnic minorities, and a critique of political multiculturalism. Its central concern is the perennial question of how to propagate an effective radical politics in a multicultural society: how to promote greater equality that benefits both ethnic minorities and the wider population, and why so little has been achieved. It charts how the Bengali Muslims in London’s East End have responded to the pulls of class, ethnicity and religion; and how these have been differently reinforced by wider political movements. Drawing on extensive recorded interviews, ethnographic observation, and long sorties into the local archives, it recounts and analyses the experiences of many of those who took part in over six decades of political history that range over secular nationalism, trade unionism, black radicalism, mainstream local politics, Islamism, and the rise and fall of the Respect Coalition. Through this Bengali case study and examples from wider immigrant politics, it traces the development and adoption of the concepts of popular frontism and revolutionary stages theory and of the identity politics that these ideas made possible. It demonstrates how these theories and tactics have cut across class-based organisation and acted as an impediment to tackling cross-cultural inequality; and it argues instead for a left alternative that addresses fundamental socio-economic divisions.
Chapter 2 looks at links with the homeland and Bengali politics. It begins with the movements for independence from Britain and for the formation of Pakistan; and it goes on to the growing movement for East Bengali autonomy and then independence, as the Bengalis came to believe they had exchanged colonialism under Britain for colonialism under West Pakistan. It also looks at Bengali responses to problems relating to immigration, which sometimes – as in the issuing of passports –overlapped with Pakistani politics. It charts the development of movements for democracy and independence in East Bengal and supportive activism in London. And it examines the role played by Bengali students and professionals in co-ordinating political mobilisation and in welfare activities – where, despite their radical left politics, they relied more on patriarchal bonds than on class analysis. The chapter explores the impact of Communist Party ideology on progressive politics, and especially revolutionary stages theory and popular-front organisation, which encouraged the activists to set aside long-term aims for socialism, and concentrate on immediate demands for national independence and on resolving community problems. It argues that, instead of leading to socialism, this marginalised the socialist aims that most activists claimed to support.