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  • Writer's pictureDonal Horgan

Private Schools Rule OK...?

Updated: May 10, 2018

Equality has become the prime political obsession of the age - with gender, it would seem, becoming the sole criterion for judging just how various institutions are performing in this regard. Indeed, we are well used to political parties, the Oireachtas and even the cabinet being scrutinized to see just how well they are conforming to the gender quotas set for them by feminists.

But is this really all there is to equality? A more rounded view of equality might well include class and social privilege. Inequality has traditionally focused heavily on economic inequality and all the signs are that the gap between the have's and the have not's is continuing to grow. So how well do Ireland's political elites measure up when they are scrutinized under this criterion?

One indicator of social privilege is attendance at a private fee-paying secondary school and an examination of the cabinet certainly makes for interesting reading in this regard. While the vast majority of the population attend public secondary schools, it transpires that six or 40% of the fifteen member cabinet attended a fee-paying secondary school!

The most notable of these, of course, is none other than Taoiseach Leo Varadkar who attended the exclusive King's Hospital secondary school which charges annual fees of over €7,000 per annum. Also in the cabinet's fee-paying school club are Clongowes Wood boys Simon Coveney and Richard Bruton. The Minister in charge of housing, Eoghan Murphy, attended St. Michael's College in Dublin's exclusive Ailesbury Road while Minister for Culture Josepha Madigan is a past pupil of another Dublin school, Mount Anville where annual fees run to €5,600. Of the independent members of the cabinet, Shane Ross attended Rugby School, one of Britain's oldest fee-paying schools.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with attending a fee-paying school - people are perfectly entitled to spend their money on whatever they want and that includes schools and education. However, attendance at a private fee-paying school does serve as an indicator of a particular cultural milieu especially when 40% of a group belong to it. The near obsession with one form of 'equality', namely gender equality, by a group which itself is far removed from the world of equality is somewhat ridiculous and serves to highlight just how the term has been hijacked to serve the needs of particular groups.

However, it is not just in Ireland's political inner sanctum that one sees the role of social privilege. Ireland's political far left has more than its share of private fee-paying alumni urging voters to support the policies that their own parents obviously never supported. Chief amongst these is Mary Lou McDonald, leader of Sinn Fein and a past pupil of fee-paying Notre Dame Des Missions in Dublin's affluent Churchtown. Also in this exclusive fee-paying socialist club are People Before Profit's Richard Boyd Barrett who attended St. Michael's College in Ailesbury Road, the same alma mater as Fine Gael's Eoghan Murphy and Solidarity's Paul Murphy who attended St. Killian's German School where annual fees currently stand at €4,950 per year.

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