Ireland: Education dominated by religion

The history of Irish education is dominated by religion: around 90% of primary schools are controlled by the Catholic Church,  around 6% by Protestant Churches and of the remainder around 2% are multi-denominational. The “Rules for National Schools” stipulate how religion is to be taught in primary schools. The secondary school system is a little more diverse with (in 2007) 372 Catholic secondary schools,  25 Church of Ireland and 334 “Inter-denominational” (mixed Catholic & Protestant) later redesignated multi-denominational (but effectively Christian), 1 Jewish and 1 Quaker. As of 2014 Educate Together had 3 multi-denominational secondary schools with 1 more planned for 2015.

There are no atheist schools in Ireland and no campaigns for them. Atheist Ireland is not campaigning
to ban religion. Atheist Ireland is campaigning for secular education:

  • children are not treated differently or discriminated against on the basis of religion
  • no religion is able to claim advantage or special privileges in the education system
  • children are not required to be separated or excluded from selected classes for “religious reasons”

Secular education is about all children being treated with equal dignity and equal respect for their human rights. Denominational education is effectively sectarian in nature and therefore incompatible with equal treatment.

Education in Ireland has religious control exerted for historical reasons, from the Constitution, from Legislation for Education, from rules for teachers and school management, from the structure of teacher training and the institutes that deliver it, from the control structure of schools (Boards of Management and Trusts) and various religious education pressure groups including the churches themselves.

Religious institutions and religious controlled schools are permitted exemptions from Equality Legislation for employment (to be able to discrimination in hiring teachers based on religion) and for admissions of children (to be able to discriminate against children based on their declared religion).

This section contains subtopics on further details of these issues with religion in Irish education.

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