Education and a true republic

Much work remains to be done

Sir, – I very much agree with Fintan O’Toole (“Monarchy is a bad habit. Up the Republic”, Opinion & Analysis, September 20th), and we should count ourselves very fortunate to live in Ireland.

However, there is much work to be done if we want to realise anything like a true republic here.

For example, our primary school system is dominated by religious (95 per cent), and in particular Catholic (89 per cent), patrons. Schools can, under legislation, discriminate against children seeking admission if they are of the view that they might undermine their ethos. They also often request details about a child’s religion and church of baptism in their pre-enrolment application forms, opening the door to the possibility of religious discrimination in admissions, notwithstanding the repeal of the so-called “baptism barrier”.

In this bizarre system, a child’s constitutional right not to attend “religious instruction” (indoctrination) is also systemically flouted. Children who “opt out” are typically segregated at the back of the class during these timetabled periods, where they still attend and therefore absorb the indoctrination. Legislation was enacted in 2018 introducing a requirement for school admission policies to provide details of their arrangements in respect of students opting not to attend religious instruction.


Most schools fudge this obligation in practice, typically instructing parents to make an appointment with the principal to discuss the matter. The State turns a blind eye.

Furthermore, religious schools practice the “integrated curriculum” whereby more subtle forms of religious indoctrination permeate the entire school day, making it impossible for children to avoid religious indoctrination.

Meanwhile, LGBT+ and atheist teachers have said that they live in fear of being themselves due to fears of discrimination in Catholic schools.

This is all State-funded. In a multicultural, 21st-century western republic.

Fintan O’Toole’s quote from Thomas Paine, “a long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right”, can be applied to the Irish education system. An aberration by international standards, yet normalised because, well, it’s been that way for generations.

Given the treatment of religious and non-religious minorities in the Irish education system, Philip Pettit’s definition of a republic as a place where “we can look one another in the eye without reason for fear or deference” is still a long way off. – Yours, etc,


Human Rights Officer,

Education Equality,


Dublin 16.