The Government has no plans to force religious-owned hospitals to remove crosses or other religious symbols, according to the Taoiseach.
However, Leo Varadkar said publicly-funded institutions needed to recognise not everyone was religious, or Catholic, and should reflect the beliefs of all the public.
A Government-commissioned report published on Thursday suggests the State is entitled to withhold funding from voluntary bodies providing healthcare that refuse to provide particular services.
The report, by a review group chaired by former EU Commission official Catherine Day, says the issue of what services are to be provided and funded by the State has come under the spotlight following the abortion referendum.
It says voluntary organisations in receipt of State funding should be cognisant of the impact of religious décor on patients.
Mr Varadkar said organisations had to have regard to the fact that in modern Ireland a diversity of views existed about religion.
“It’s not a campaign from the Government or anyone around removing cribs or crucifixes or statues of Our Lady - that’s not what’s going to happen,” he told Newstalk FM on Thursday morning.
“But it is a message to charities and voluntary bodies that do run hospitals and schools just to have regard to these things.
“It is the 21st century, things have changed, a lot of patients, a lot of kids aren’t religious, maybe aren’t Roman Catholic. And the ethos of an institution that’s publicly funded should reflect the public, not just any one section of the public.”
"Removing the crib was totally over the top," he added referring to the decision in December 2017 by Beaumont Hospital to move its crib from the foyer to the chapel.
The Taoiseach said he believed in the separation of church and State, but not in banishing religion to private spaces.
“I’d have a crib, I’d have a menorah and something for Eid too. Lots of parish schools recognise that they have children from other traditions.”
The review group chaired by Ms Day found the State was legally entitled to attach reasonable conditions to funding to voluntary organisations.
It warned this could lead to serious consequences and prolonged disruption for patients and has instead urged reforms be introduced that would ensure all citizens could access the full range of lawful State-funded services.
In a new funding approach, the State would establish a list of essential services it wanted provided on its behalf. It said the State could either commission these from the voluntary or private sectors on a nationally-fixed price basis or deliver them directly through the public health system.
‘Impact of décor’
Under the heading “religious décor”, the report says: “Voluntary organisations in receipt of state funding should be cognisant of the impact of décor on patients/service users and strive to ensure that their personal preferences in this regard are met to the greatest extent possible.”
A consultation with service users was carried out as part of the report, which said a number of respondents “felt that the religious ethos of an organisation was apparent in its décor, through the presence of chapels, religious icons, logos and posters”.
In the survey, 32 respondents felt the religious ethos was apparent in the organisation, while 24 felt it was not.
“Of those who felt that the religious ethos was apparent, views were almost evenly split between those who felt it had a positive impact on care provided and those who felt it had a negative impact,” the report said.
“For example, those who felt that the religious ethos had a positive impact on care said that it provided a caring, considerate and compassionate environment. One respondent who felt it had a negative impact on care expressed discomfort due to religious celebrants delivering pastoral care.
“Two organisations working with people with disabilities felt that religious ethos had a negative impact on aspects of service provision relating to sexual health and reproductive services and education of service users.”
Overall, the report said it did not come across any evidence that there was a difference in the quality of care provided to service users on the grounds of ethos.
“Service providers and State bodies across the sector, including in the HSE and HIQA, stated that there was no difference in the quality of care received by patients in voluntary hospitals owned by religious orders and those which are not faith-based.”