Valentine Doyle (6) sits at the back of her class for 30 minutes every day and "draws", while her classmates are taught religion.
“She feels left out, different, excluded,” says her father, Devin. “She says she wants to ‘do the God thing’ now because the other kids are doing it. They were doing the sign of the cross and some of them told her she should do it too. So she wants to.”
Devin, from Dublin, and his French wife, Nanou, returned to Ireland earlier this year. They had met in Ireland and lived for a time in Australia and France. They have a younger daughter, Juliette (2).
"Vallie went to school in France. There you just go to the local school. It's completely secular. If parents want their children to do religious education, they go to Sunday school or private schools. We knew there would be an issue here, so we put Vallie's name down for a lot of Educate Together schools, but she didn't get in. They were all full."
Living in Dublin 7, they secured a place for her in the Christ The King National School in Cabra.
"It has to be said they have been great," says Devin. "They have acceded to our request that she opt out of religion and they have done their best to make her feel included. The Sam Maguire Cup came to the school a few weeks ago and Vallie was chosen to hold it for the photographs."
However, opting out of religious instruction means sitting at the back of the class for 30 minutes each day. “She draws. She sits on her own and she doesn’t like it. She feels excluded and different.
“She’s a curious kid and asks about religion. We’d like her to be able to opt in and learn about all religions. We have told her religion is a thing people use to explain about love with stories, but that we think there are better stories to understand love.”
‘Obsession with religion’
He says his wife “just can’t understand the obsession with religion in the schools”, while he feels “embarrassed . . . this is my country and I brought them here”.
He is now involved in a new group, Education Equality, being announced in Dublin tomorrow to campaign for an end to what it sees as religious discrimination in schools.
“We’d really like religion taken out of the main school day,” says Devin. “If parents want religious instruction, that’s fine, but let it be at the end of the school day. This is not about there not being enough school places. Vallie’s school is not oversubscribed and still she has to sit at the back of her class for half an hour every day, feeling different.”