School caretaker called teacher a ‘disgrace’ after trying to remove Virgin Mary statue

Caretaker and teacher tussled over placement of statue on May altar in school

A school caretaker called a teacher a “disgrace” as he attempted to remove a statue of the Virgin Mary from the main entrance.

In the altercation on May 1st, 2015, caretaker Noel Lonergan tussled with computer science teacher and humanist Fachtna Roe over the statue which Mr Lonergan had erected as part of a May altar at Clonmel's Central Technical Institute.

Mr Roe complained to institute authorities in 2012 about the May altar, stating that he views the Virgin Mary statue as a symbol associated with oppression, cruelty and humiliation of women and children. He said that the statue caused him "offence and upset". The Labour Court heard the school relocated the statue at that time.

Concerning the May 2015 scuffle, Mr Roe told the Labour Court that he attempted to remove the statue as he viewed it as victimisation of him.


He stated that Mr Lonergan intervened to prevent its removal and the tussle and heated verbal exchange ensued.

In his evidence at the Labour Court, Mr Lonergan – now retired – stated that he asked Mr Roe to back away but he refused and Mr Lonergan was shoved backwards, hit himself off an object and sustained minor injuries to his neck and hand.

Mr Lonergan accepted that he was angry, stressed and called Mr Roe “a disgrace”, for which he was apologetic.

A teacher at the CTI, Jonathan Nolan broke up the row and told the Labour Court that the pair appeared to be in a tussle over an object which they both had their hands on.

Mr Nolan said that he heard Mr Lonergan refer to Mr Roe as a “disgrace” as he fell backwards.

Mr Lonergan reported the matter to gardaí and gave a statement.

The details concerning the row and identity of the parties are contained in a Labour Court ruling where Deputy Labour Court chairman, Alan Haugh has dismissed a claim by Mr Roe that he was discriminated against, harassed and victimised on the grounds of religion by the Tipperary Education Training Board because of the May altar and statue of the Virgin Mary at his place of work.

The Labour Court report states that both Mr Roe and Mr Lonergan were subject to disciplinary proceedings concerning the May 2015 altercation.


Mr Haugh reports that Mr Roe did not participate in the proceedings, while no sanction was imposed on Mr Lonergan. Mr Haugh reports that Mr Roe was relocated to alternative teaching duties at Templemore, where he continues to work.

School principal at the time and now retired, Charlie McGeever told the Labour Court that a physical altercation between two staff members was of “grave concern”.

He stated that Mr Roe had been issued with a written warning which he did not appeal.

Mr Roe argued that the placement of the Virgin Mary statue in 2015 was done to make him feel inferior as a humanist in his place of work, and that the statue represents Roman Catholic dogma, which humanists oppose.

In 2014, when ashes were inadvertently distributed during one of Mr Roe's classes on Ash Wednesday, he lodged a complaint to the Equality Tribunal and this resulted in a mediated settlement between the parties on April 27th, 2015, a few days before the May 1st, 2015 tussle.

Mr Roe also argued at the Labour Court that there is no place in a vocational school for religious dogma.

The institute argued that CTI is a multi-denominational school and has a Christian ethos and the placement of a May altar annually at the school is carried out in the preservation of that ethos.

Mr Haugh, on behalf of the court, found that Mr Roe has not established any facts from which an inference of discrimination could be drawn in this case.

He stated that neither Mr McGeever nor Mr Lonergan displayed any animus or ill will towards Mr Roe in their evidence, quite the contrary.

Mr Haugh stated that Mr Lonergan took the course of action he did, which he accepts was inappropriate and disproportionate, to prevent Mr Roe from interfering with an expression of faith by other members of the school.

The Labour Court ruling after four days of evidence at "a virtual courtroom" upholds a 2017 ruling by the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) where the parties were not named.

Gordon Deegan

Gordon Deegan

Gordon Deegan is a contributor to The Irish Times