Emma O KellyEmma O Kelly talks to Education Minister Ruairi Quinn about his plans to reform patronage of primary schools.

It was fitting that Ruairi Quinn’s first formal engagement as Minister for Education was an address to the Catholic Primary School Managers Association today.

As the Labour Party’s Education Spokesman for the past three years, Mr Quinn has been a vocal advocate for change on the issue of patronage in schools and the current dominance of the Catholic Church.

It is an issue he has looked at closely and questioned the Department of Education on in the Dáil and through Parliamentary Questions (the latter with very little success, according to himself).

He has also not been slow to criticise the Department of Education itself on its relationship with the Catholic Church.

During a debate on the Ryan Report, he questioned whether some staff at the department were members of secret societies such as the Knights of Columbanus or Opus Dei and had taken it upon themselves to ‘protect the interests of the clerical orders’.

Speaking to Prime Time last year, Ruairi Quinn said the Catholic bishops had ‘hijacked’ the new State VEC primary schools (Community National Schools), and had received a commitment from the then Minister for Education Mary Hanafin that communion and confirmation would be taught as an integral part of the curriculum.

He went on to say that the Department was not used to being open and accountable and operated like the Kremlin or the Vatican in terms of secrecy.

Now Ruairi Quinn is Minister for Education. This morning, he received a standing ovation from delegates at the Catholic Primary School Manager’s Association. The Catholic bishops have welcomed his commitment to a forum on the issue of patronage, and they especially welcomed his commitment to a speedy outcome.

But the many parents who want a secular or multi-denominational education for their children want to know will real actual change come? And if so, how soon?

This of course is just one of many pressing issues facing the new minister. There are many policy positions to be teased out with the new administration, but today at the Catholic Managers AGM I asked him some questions about the role of the Catholic Church in education.