The end of the Irish State’s commitment to a non-denominational system of national (primary) education using the National School system?

This open letter was sent today by Citizens for Separation of Church and State to the members of the Oireachtas.

The National School system was established in 1831 by the Imperial government to provide a country-wide system of local schools where all the children of the locality would be educated together in the secular curriculum and with religious instruction provided by the religious denominations outside of the formal timetable. The late Dr. Garret Fitzgerald provided a short history of the National School system in his posthumous monograph “Irish Primary Education in the Early Nineteenth Century” (RIA, 2013).
Since the formation of this State that system of strict separation of the period of religious instruction from the secular curriculum has been eroded so that now, to all intents and purposes, our schools are denominational in ethos. With the State’s guarantee of ‘ethos’ (as defined by the patron of a particular school) for religious run schools, the state in effect opted out of the effort to secure national schooling (primary) and treat the children of the nation equally.
Let’s be quite clear, there is no statutory definition of ‘ethos’ and our Constitution is silent on ‘ethos’ merely requiring the state to ensure under Article 42.2° “The State shall, however, as guardian of the common good, require in view of actual conditions that the children receive a certain minimum education, moral, intellectual and social”.
Despite various unfavourable UN Human Rights Committee reports and European Union concerns about discrimination on the ‘religion ground’ in schools of particular ‘ethos’, the Irish State has pushed ahead to strengthen the position of religious controlled and operated schools via the posited ‘deed of variation’.
This construct was discussed in the Coolahan report on primary school patronage (2012). [] The Secretary General of the DoES commented recently on the status of this Deed:
“The objective of the Deeds of Variation is to provide ultimate security for the ethos of denominational schools. I wish to assure you that the Minister is fully committed to achieving this objective. It is the case that there are complex legal issues involved and the Department has been working with the Attorney General in relation to the matter. [Secretary General of DoES, March 2015]
Note the reference to ‘complex legal issues involved’ and the involvement of the AG. We trust that the AG will reflect on our human right obligation to all children in our National Schools.
The state sees the way forward as being one of a multiplicity of schools catering for differing religions and the non-religious/liberal parents will be catered for by the expanding Educate Together (ET) network of schools. At a recent conference in Galway Paul Rowe (CEO of ET) stated that they estimated that if ET had 300 schools throughout the country they could geographically at least offer schools at a national level. The number of schools in the pipeline and the expected forward increase makes that number a possibility in the not too distant future he argued and it is obvious that the Department of Education & Skills agrees and sees this ET network as the answer to the problems posed for many by explicitly denominational schools.
The extent of travel required by pupils and their parents to attend such ET type schools on a national basis might restrict access of course and the problem of numbers and location might mean parents having to try and drive children to more than one school (especially as sibling automatic right of admission to any school is now being curbed legislatively). With greenhouse gas emissions from transport being high in Ireland this solution adds to our climate-change mitigation burden and should be rejected. The principle of a local school catering for all the children of a locality has therefore been abandoned, as the guarantee of ‘ethos’ trumps pupil rights and sustainable localities in the mind of the state.
The constitutionality of this abandonment of children’s constitutional right to opt out of religious instruction (indoctrination) and for schools to discriminate on pupil entry and against staff selection is open to challenge. The die has been cast as far as the state is concerned and without Supreme Court rulings overturning the state’s clear game-plan, the battle for a real ‘national’ school system has been lost. It seems to be the case that an action is to be taken against the state in the coming months by a parent/child on the basis of violation of rights in a denominational school and that will be the moment of truth. It would be exceptional indeed if the judiciary was to rule against this heavily flagged intention by the state but without such a ruling the state will not be deflected from its course of many years.
The future is one whereby differing (and multiplying) faiths will seek and set up schools guaranteeing their own ‘ethos’ (however that may be defined) alongside existing faith networks and the ET network. This is the exact opposite of any ‘National’ ideal and that it should be taking place as we approach the 100th anniversary of the States seminal founding event is unbelievable and to us unacceptable. In the absence of judicial striking-down the best that can be hoped for is that the network of Community National Schools (CNS), VEC primary, will succeed in attracting those religious (by catering for diverse beliefs) who might otherwise be tempted to establish their own schools and thus the worst possible scenario of a rampant splintering of the system might be avoided.
We believe sadly that the battle for a truly local and National school system where all the children of any locality are educated in the one school has almost been lost apart from the forlorn hope of judicial or Oireacthas intervention.
We pose the question to you as legislators: Are you happy with the government’s clear intent to finally extinguish any hopes of a truly National School system?

Dick Spicer & Mike McKillen
Citizens for Separation of Church and State and on Facebook and Twitter
9 April 2015

UN Human Rights Committee: Concluding observations on the fourth periodic report of Ireland (19 August 2014) – Religious Oath requirement

Let’s be quite clear our government has known for decades that the continuance of the constitutional requirement for taking a stated religious oath for high office (President, judges of superior courts and membership of Council of State) is an abnegation of human rights.

The UN Human Rights Committee has been calling for urgent action by government to move a constitutional amendment to do the right thing by citizens.

Here is what the latest UN HRC said in its report issued on 19 August last.

UN Human Rights Committee
Concluding observations on the fourth periodic report of Ireland
Freedom of religion

“21. The Committee is concerned at the slow pace of progress in amending the provisions of the Constitution that oblige individuals wishing to take up senior public office positions, such as President, members of the Council of State and members of the judiciary, to take religious oaths. It is also concerned about the slow progress in increasing access to secular education through the establishment of non-denominational schools, divestment of the patronage of schools and the phasing out of integrated religious curricula in schools accommodating minority faith or non-faith children. It expresses further concern that under section 37 (1) of the Employment Equality Acts, religious-owned institutions, including in the fields of education and health, can discriminate against employees or prospective employees to protect the religious ethos of the institution (arts. 2, 18, 25 and 27).
The State party should take concrete steps to amend articles 12, 31 and 34 of the Constitution that require religious oaths to take up senior public office positions, taking into account the Committee’s general comment No. 22 (1993) on freedom of thought, conscience and religion, concerning the right not to be compelled to reveal one’s thoughts or adherence to a religion or belief in public. It should also introduce legislation to prohibit discrimination in access to schools on the grounds of religion, belief or other status, and ensure that there are diverse school types and curriculum options available throughout the State party to meet the needs of minority faith or non-faith children. It should further amend section 37 (1) of the Employment Equality Act in a way that bars all forms of discrimination in employment in the fields of education and health”.


So CSCS asks why the proposed referendums to be conducted in 2015 are not addressing this issue?

In the second referendum planned for 22 May – 55% of those surveyed were opposed to lowering the age of presidential candidates

The Sunday Times’ Behaviour and Attitudes Poll on voting intentions was published yesterday.

“In the second referendum planned for 22 May – 55% of those surveyed were opposed to lowering the age of presidential candidates, 40% were in favour and 5% were in the ‘don’t know’ category”.

[That’s the 35th Amendment poll]

The poll surveyed 959 people over ten days up to last Wednesday night.

Citizens to Separate Church and State is now calling for a No vote in the 35th Amendment referendum since government has not responded to its plea to stall the referendum pending the fixing of the religious oath requirement for installation of a president.

Why is our government protecting the mandatory religious oath in our Constitution for election to presidency?

Interesting thought from Dr. Martin (RC archbishop of Dublin) about the fact ‘that many Christians today lived “a sort of de-facto atheism”.

Their faith “remains personal and important for them, but it does not bring them to the point of public witness to the truth of Jesus’ life and message”.…/bishop-of-elphin-expresses-regr…

So why are we continuing with maintaining the absolute requirement for the swearing of a religious oath during the installation of a president-elect [Article 12.8] and for the appointment of judges of the superior courts [Article 34.5.1]?

Government – why the collective silence on this issue? You know that the UN HRC as well as constitutional review reports have called for a parallel ‘affirmation’.

It is so easy to propose a Bill to enable another referendum this year to address this human rights issue at the same time as the 35th Amendment is taken.

Why are you continuing with this human rights abnegation? What are you protecting by refusing to act? The centenary of the 1916 Rising looms so time to do the right thing by the republic.

Letter from Citizens to Separate Church and State to the various Faith Bodies established on the Island

Citizens to Separate Church and State wrote to the various Faith Bodies operating on the Island of Ireland asking each to support CSCS’s plea to government to stall the proposal to hold the 35th Amendment to our Constitution until such time as there is a parallel ‘Affirmation’ inserted into our Constitution to deal with the religious oath required of the President-elect at the time of his/her installation. Referendum-Letter to religious leaders-PressRelease-01-03-15