Sociology

A legacy and an assault from within

This chapter looks at two countries that offer deviant cases-one where the legislation was passed through a consensual process and one where it was ‘imposed’ upon a new government by its predecessor.

The Consensus Model in New Zealand: agreement between senior politicians and officials led to a consensual process around developing policy, driven by those who, elsewhere, frequently formed the core resistance to the process (White 2007; Snell 2001). This led to a step-by-step, conciliatory process and a dynamic and flexible law, frequently judged one of the strongest in the world (White 2007; Aitken 1998).

The Imposed Model in Ireland: a series of controversial court cases and a scandal over infected beef in 1990s placed FOI on the agenda of two successive reformist governments. In 1997 legislation was passed as a ‘legacy’ policy in the dying days of a government which was then replaced with a successor deeply sceptical of FOI (Kearney and Stapleton 1998). The process meant FOI became a contentious and controversial issue from its inception (Felle and Adshead 2008). This represents another reason for FOI being passed, seen also in South America, whereby legislation is fostered upon a government as a legacy issue (Michener 2010).

in The politics of freedom of information

New Labour’s support for FOI was partially through willing embrace and partially through having it forced upon them. By the 1990s party backing, policy shifts and pragmatic opportunism had pushed the law centre stage.

FOI was partly thrust upon the Labour Party leadership. In the legislature, FOI’s long support in the Labour Party had built into a powerful current of cross-party support. It was also powered by the spread of FOI around the world and, perhaps mostly importantly, by rapidly shifting technology and changing public expectations in the area of information provision.

FOI was embraced by the leadership as very much a product of Labour’s eighteen years of out of power. FOI was an opportunistic policy that served to embarrass the secretive and ‘sleaze’-ridden Conservative government. It also chimed, after the experience of Thatcherism, with a current of Labour Party thought on breaking up power, and locked into a wide-ranging programme of constitutional reforms aimed at redesigning politics. More than this, the idea itself had obtained a powerful magnetic force. It was bound up with Labour’s sense of self and appealed as a policy that symbolised Labour’s radicalism and its new approach towards government and the people.

in The politics of freedom of information
Asymmetric warfare

This chapter examines the legislative process in Parliament. A wide but fragile alliance sought to strengthen the bill but was caught between the desire to move the policy in a more radical direction and the fear that the government would drop the bill that, after all, attracted little electoral support.

The FOI bill reached Parliament following two highly regarded committee investigations in House of Commons and Lords. The government faced an increasingly assertive and expert alliance of Parliamentarians in both houses seeking a ‘stronger’ law, supported by campaigns by the national media. The government foresaw a difficult passage (Straw 2012). The government veto power was weakened and clauses made for better balancing tests when decisions to release were even.

An ‘ultimate’ confrontation was foreseen for the final House of Lords stage when a cross-party grouping of Peers appeared set to hold out for a much stronger piece of legislation. However, amid rumours FOI would be dropped and behind-the-scenes deals, the alliance in the House of Lords was forced to choose between losing the bill and having a slightly improved Act on the statute books. The FOI bill was then finally subject to an abrupt, curtailed final debate in the Commons.

in The politics of freedom of information
How and why governments pass laws that threaten their power

Why do governments pass freedom of information laws? The symbolic power and force surrounding FOI makes it appealing as an electoral promise but hard to disengage from once in power. However, behind closed doors compromises and manoeuvres ensure that bold policies are seriously weakened before they reach the statute book.

The politics of freedom of information examines how Tony Blair's government proposed a radical FOI law only to back down in fear of what it would do. But FOI survived, in part due to the government's reluctance to be seen to reject a law that spoke of 'freedom', 'information' and 'rights'. After comparing the British experience with the difficult development of FOI in Australia, India and the United States – and the rather different cases of Ireland and New Zealand – the book concludes by looking at how the disruptive, dynamic and democratic effects of FOI laws continue to cause controversy once in operation.

Two firsts and the greatest?

US: A long struggle by a small group of politicians and journalists over a decade led to numerous abortive attempts to pass legislation in the 1960s. The bill finally became the 1966 FOI Act following a long process of negotiation in the Senate and opposition, though crucially not rejection, from the then President Lyndon Johnson (Reylea 1983: Yu and Davies 2012).

Australia: the Australian FOI policy development, beginning in the 1970s and ending in 1982, was a long series of advances and retreats. The proposed legislation was alternatively weakened during its passage, with crusaders both in government and in the Senate seeking to preserve key features against bureaucratic and political opposition (Snell 2001: Terrill 1998).

India: the traditional view of Indian Right to Information Act is of a remarkable grassroots alliance of dedicated reformers pushed openness legislation from the local level upwards during the 1990s and 2000s (Roberts 2006: Sharma 2013). However the reality is more complex as RTI was the result of a combination of piecemeal reforms in the 1980s, shifts in elite power and support from parts of the bureaucracy and from Sonia Ghandi herself (Singh 2007: Sharma 2013).

in The politics of freedom of information

Chapter 4 examines how general policy orientations were translated into school curricula in the late 1990s and 2000s with regard to cultural and religious matters. It analyses the ambivalent message of the 1999 curriculum, between a celebration of cultural pluralism and the assertion of a kind of ‘Irish majority identity’, along with the Irish State’s continued promotion of religious identity in primary school. It shows that new contents and approaches in history and education for citizenship have been marked by a pluralist ambition (even egalitarian in the case of Civic, Social and Political Education), in contrast with religious education syllabuses which have largely remained a (modernised) vehicle of Christian catechism in the vast majority of schools, with some efforts towards a more open approach at secondary level. The pedagogical project of intercultural education, which is now meant to permeate all school content in theory (in accordance with the aim of ‘integrated teaching’), clashes directly both with religious instruction as it remains taught in primary schools (with religious values or ethos also meant to permeate school life in denominational schools) and with the segregated nature of the school system.

in Schools and the politics of religion and diversity in the Republic of Ireland
Abstract only

Concluding comments focus on the contradiction between new teaching contents and approaches that strive to take into account changing Irish realities and open paths for sociocultural reconfiguration and educational structures inherited from the past that privilege communal (especially religious) interests over equal rights. Political responses based on ‘majority’ rights at different levels are shown to be at odds with republican ideals and democratic values. The dominant political ideology in the Republic of Ireland has contributed to perpetuating communal hierarchies and widespread discrimination in the existing school system, rather than striving towards equal citizenship for all and respect for freedom of thought, conscience and religion as a basic individual human right. The conclusion finally places Irish realities and debates within the context of international debates on the place of religion in school, school segregation, secularity, human and cultural rights and intercultural education. It traces the concept of interculturalism back to Canada in particular, showing that there are striking parallels in the field of education policy between the recent history of Quebec and the current Irish situation.

in Schools and the politics of religion and diversity in the Republic of Ireland
What role for schools?

Chapter 3 examines developments in Irish education policy generally over the past forty years and how they have related to social, cultural and religious diversity and inequalities. It looks at state views of the aim of school education and the shift from Gaelic-Catholic nationalism to market-oriented views (Denis O’Sullivan’s ‘mercantile paradigm’) within an international context. It analyses the tentative and limited opening towards more pluralist conceptions of Irish society in general policy documents of the 1990s and the persistence of more traditional Christian views and values. In the 2000s education policy discourses acknowledged some discrimination issues as part of official efforts towards the ‘inclusive society’, but still largely ignored existing issues of religious discrimination. By contrast, from the mid-1990s onwards, teacher organisations and other educational actors called for a national policy that would address both sociocultural and religious inequalities and discrimination. This led to the formulation of a new intercultural discourse in education at both educational and state levels.

in Schools and the politics of religion and diversity in the Republic of Ireland
Abstract only

The introduction presents the Republic of Ireland as a case study in the international debate on the place of religion in schools and on the relationship between religion, cultural identity and citizenship in state-funded education systems. It focuses on the specificities of the Irish case (a largely denominational and private system) and on the international scope of such a study (Ireland as both a postcolonial and de facto post-imperial country, issues of civic or ethnic citizenship, multicultural or intercultural perspectives etc.). The choice of a democratic perspective based first and foremost on the rights of children as individual human beings (and not only as members of families or communities) is explained and justified within the context of previous research on the subject in Ireland and elsewhere. The introduction also offers a more general critical analysis of previous writings on the subject of religion and schools in the Irish State, drawing a distinction between Catholic viewpoints and democratic perspectives and questioning the relevance of distinctions made between local and cosmopolitan academic perspectives.

in Schools and the politics of religion and diversity in the Republic of Ireland

Chapter 1 examines the influence and legacy of Gaelic-Catholic cultural nationalism on the Irish education system, showing that its main characteristics (Church control and denominational structures, patronage system, religious segregation, importance of religion in educational aims and contents up to the 1971 curriculum) reflect both 19th c. developments and the Irish Free State’s Catholic-cultural nationalism (post-independence education policies, 1937 Constitution, ‘fabricated cultural homogeneity’). It also shows that, contrary to popular belief, the denominational nature of the system itself and the ‘legality’ of religious discrimination within the system only date back to changes introduced in official education policy documents in the 1960s.

in Schools and the politics of religion and diversity in the Republic of Ireland