As the dust settles on General Election 2016, a number of things are clear: this electorate wants change: over 50 sitting TDs have lost their seats and a host of new faces will make up the 32nd Dáil when it forms. What is also clear is that our education system needs serious reform: there are children living near schools in Ireland that won’t accept them on the basis of their belief background; there are children attending schools in Ireland who are obliged to spend teaching time away from the majority of their classmates because of their belief background.
Whatever the make-up of the next Government, this injustice must be addressed. Parties and politicians must put aside their differences and acknowledge that this situation is not fair on communities, on families but, most of all, it is unfair to children. The next Dáil must deal with this injustice speedily, competently and effectively. Our legislators must propose a blueprint, identifying what can be done, where it can be done and who can do it.
Educate Together has provided a plan - a national network of 300 equality-based primary schools and 30 equality-based second-level schools. Our aim is that all families would have access to an equality-based school within 30 minutes travel time from their home. All it needs now is a dedicated line of funding and a commitment to progress and to educational equality. The next Government must cost it, implement it and then we can all reap the rewards of a truly equal education system.
Children cannot vote but they will remember. This ever-growing cohort of children - those turned away from or excluded in school - will be voting in 14 years, in 12 years or less. They will think back to their segregation from their classmates, to being made feel different and to being part of the minority and they will act and vote accordingly.