On Monday, Seamus Bannon, the principal of Christian Brothers High School in Clonmel, Co Tipperary, confirmed that the board of management of his school would be appealing a ruling the Equality Tribunal made against it. The tribunal had ordered the school to provide a place for a local boy after it was found he had been indirectly discriminated against. But the school isn't having it. The local boy is John Stokes. He attended a feeder school and is a Roman Catholic, fulfilling two of the three obligations needed to get into the Clonmel secondary school. But he does not fulfil the third – having a brother or father who attended the school. He couldn't have had an older brother in the school because he is the eldest. And he couldn't have had a father who attended the school because his own father, like many older Travellers, never progressed beyond primary level.
Here is a boy who is a pioneer of education in his family and in his community, a boy who is trying to make the best of himself. Here is a boy who, given the opportunity, would become the first ever in his family to make it to secondary school against all odds, breaking through the seals of discrimination that vacuum-pack Travellers at every juncture. Many kids will only go to school kicking and screaming. This boy has to be dragged through the courts before he can assert his right to education.
As Christian Brothers High School Clonmel gets lawyered up, lodging its appeal at the Circuit Court, perhaps its choosy board of management should ask itself this weekend what it really serves to exclude a local boy from its school. What is really at work here? How do its actions reflect the ideals of Christian Brothers founder Edmund Rice, whose philosophy was one of assistance and inclusion, not hindrance and exclusion?
Equality reared its head across the water last week too. In a landmark case against a hotel in Cornwall, a judge ruled that a gay couple were discriminated against when the owners of the hotel – devout Christians – refused to give them a double room because they weren't married, even though they were in a civil partnership. In the ruling, Judge Andrew Rutherford had some interesting thoughts on how the progression of equality relates to the law. "It is inevitable that such laws from time to time cut across deeply-held beliefs of individuals and sections of society, for they reflect the social attitudes and morals prevailing at the time that they were made," Rutherford said. He used examples like capital punishment and corporal punishment, the decriminalisation of homosexuality and suicide, and bans on hunting and smoking in public places, saying: "All of these – and they are only examples – have offended sections of the population and in some cases cut across traditional religious beliefs. Not so long ago these beliefs of the defendants would have been those accepted as normal by society at large. Now it is the other way around."
It is short-sighted and irresponsible of a society not to be flexible in its thinking and values. And attitudes can and do change dramatically. Imagine the horror that would cross the faces of those in a bar this evening if someone lit up a cigarette – that's a new attitude that didn't even need time to evolve, it happened overnight. While the smoking ban is a quite frivolous example, it's also an example of how something viewed as the greater good can galvanise people to agree and in turn to self-police. But what about the more deeply embedded attitudes in society that take longer to turn around?
The implementation of equality is a process of behavioural evolution and the evolution of attitudes. True equality can only exist in a smart society, free from the constraints posed by opinions born out of prejudices. And even if people decide to be prejudiced towards certain things based on, for example, religion or deeply-held social beliefs, they must be mature enough to cast them aside for the greater good of society.
There's a feeling at the moment that this is ground zero for Ireland; for governance, economy and society. With so many things struggling or destroyed, we have to focus on the reconstruction. But in doing so we must bear in mind that when the sun rises, it rises for everyone. So as we rebuild our society, we must rebuild it for all of us, every single one.
Another blow for independent record shops last week as Zhivago closed down its two branches in Galway. Sure, digital sales and unpaid-for downloading have hammered local record stores, but they need to learn to diversify more effectively, and take a leaf from the book of Tower Records on Wicklow Street in Dublin, where CDs and vinyl records nestle alongside books, magazines, tee-shirts, a café and a live music space.
According to a new study due to be published in the Journal of Sex Research shortly, 40% of young couples have differing opinions on how exclusive their relationship is. Even though the couples said they had discussed commitment, almost half disagreed as to whether or not they were seeing each other exclusively. At least now we know what the 'it's complicated' option on Facebook is for.
Dramatic tearaways THEATREclub continue to run amok, this time with their second annual mini-festival at the Project Arts Centre in Temple Bar, Dublin, titled Theatre Machine Turns You On: Vol II, on 15-19 February. Experimental and cheap, with four performances for €22. Book here: http://tinyurl.com/theatreclub.
Piers Morgan isn't in Larry King's chair a week and already he's annoying me. Apart from his irritating interview with the everywhere-at-the-moment Oprah and his sycophantic turn with Howard Stern, there was then his cringing chat with Condoleezza Rice in which he asked her if she dreamt of a fairytale wedding and how he could woo her. Eh, didn't get the full set of research memos before that one, Piers, no?