Religion and school patronage


Sir, – Any visitor to these shores who might read “Ireland is no longer Catholic. Why are our schools?” (Fintan O’Toole, Opinion & Analysis, January 25th) and “Hypocrisy of Benedict is writ large in 2010 letter to Irish Catholics” (Patsy McGarry, Opinion & Analysis, January 25th) would surely be utterly bewildered. A largely progressive, western democratic republic which effectively outsources its primary education system to an institution with an abysmal record when it comes to child protection. And this is publicly funded.

Fintan O’Toole refers to “a 19th-century religious educational monolith”. The Stanley Letter of 1831, which was the foundational document of the National School system, espoused a multidenominational model. Its core principle was that children of all religions should be taught together in the same school and that public funding would only be provided for schools where proselytism was absent. And all this when the vast majority of the population were Catholic.

Skip forward to 2022. We have a significantly more diverse population. The Catholic Church controls 89 per cent of primary schools in Ireland, which are funded by the State. This fact is astonishing, and a complete aberration in the developed world.

Even advocates of faith schools acknowledge the elephant in the room.

The constitutional right of children to opt out of religious instruction (indoctrination) is also routinely flouted within this bizarre system. “Opted-out” children are typically segregated and therefore othered at the back of classrooms, where they still attend religious instruction, in breach of their constitutional rights. The Department of Education’s typical response to parents who complain is that this is matter for the schools themselves, despite the breach of their constitutional rights and the fact that these schools are State-funded. There is an umbilical cord from the department to these schools when it comes to funding, but the department places its hands over its eyes when it comes to oversight in respect of the protection of constitutional rights. This is redolent of some of the darker chapters of Irish history and must be addressed.

It is high time for the Government to show some vision and lead the transition from a religiously controlled primary school system to one befitting a modern, pluralistic republic which vindicates the constitutional rights and dignity of children, irrespective of their faith, or lack thereof. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 16.

Sir, – Fintan O’Toole, in his article on the Catholic Church’s control of primary schools in this country, fails to mention the considerable Protestant minority of parents who wish to have their children educated in a school with a Protestant ethos. Are religious minorities not entitled to have schools that teach the ethos of their well-established traditional religion? – Yours, etc,