THE GOVERNMENT of Saudi Arabia is planning to establish a school with an Islamic ethos in Dublin.
The plans have been announced in Arabic on the website of the Saudi embassy in Dublin which opened in September.
According to the notice, the decision to set up a school was taken at a meeting in Dublin late last month. The meeting was attended by members of the education committee of the Saudi Shura Council, an unelected body whose members advise the Kingdom's government, and Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Ireland, Abdulaziz Aldriss.
"It was decided in the meeting to establish a Saudi school to teach the children of Saudi citizens and students residing in Ireland," the website says.
The Saudi embassy insists the plans are at a very early stage, and a spokesperson yesterday declined to give further details. In a statement, the Department of Education said the Saudi government had not been in contact with the department regarding the matter.
Speculation has mounted within Ireland's 40,000-strong Muslim community over how big the school might be, and whether it will cater for non-Saudi Muslims.
According to the embassy, less than 15 Saudi families live and work in Ireland, and more than 400 Saudi nationals study here, though the latter number is expected to rise in coming years following the Saudi ministry for education's recognition of more Irish third-level institutions.
Ali Selim, a theologian based at the Islamic Cultural Centre in Clonskeagh, Dublin, welcomed the plans. Asked about speculation within the Muslim community that the school may incorporate secondary education, he said that if this proved correct it would "achieve a long cherished Muslim ambition" in Ireland.
The State already has a number of Muslim primary schools.
"I highly recommend them to establish such a progressive step on the basis of a thorough understanding of the Irish context and the profound experience gained by Muslims living in Ireland," Mr Selim said.
The plans were also welcomed by the parents of Shekinah Egan, the teenage girl whose request to wear the hijab at her school in Gorey, Co Wexford, last year prompted the principal to call for official guidelines to be issued on the wearing of the hijab in State schools.
Ms Egan's father, Liam, who lived with his family for several years in Saudi Arabia, praised what he described as the Kingdom's "strong commitment" to education both domestically and overseas."An Islamic secondary school is vital and should be a priority for the community," he said.
Saudi government-funded schools in cities including London and Bonn, and in Virginia state in the US, have drawn controversy in recent years following complaints that textbooks and other curricular material sourced from the Saudi education ministry and used in the schools contained language intolerant of other religions as well as passages that could be construed as advocating violence.
The Islamic Saudi Academy in Virginia, which is funded by the Saudi embassy in nearby Washington DC, was forced to revise its curriculum last year after the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, a government agency, raised concerns about material it considered inflammatory.