Secular analysis of the Fine Gael manifesto

Written by Dr. Conor McGrath

The main election manifesto of Fine Gael – titled ‘Let’s Get Ireland Working – can be found at

The document is lengthy and detailed, covering the whole range of government Departments and public sector activity. As the title indicates, there is a strong concentration on economic recovery. However, some elements of the document will be of particular interest to those with a secular perspective.

On education, Fine Gael makes clear its commitment to examining the schools patronage system (p. 34): “Fine Gael will give parents a real say in how schools are governed. We believe the current situation with over 90% of primary schools under Church patronage is not reflective of the needs of a modern Irish school system. We will hold a National Forum on Education to allow all stakeholders, including parents to engage in an open debate on a change of patronage in communities where it is appropriate and necessary.”

One aspect of the party’s health proposals could potentially have implications for the religious ethos of hospitals. Fine Gael states (p. 50) that it will implement “legislation to provide for recognition of Advance Care Directives” under which patients could indicate their personal wishes as regards end-of-life and palliative care treatment.

In common with the other major parties, Fine Gael’s manifesto includes a section on political reform. However, the party does not commit itself to a comprehensive review of the Constitution. Fine Gael does intend to hold a number of referenda within 12 months of taking office, on what it terms ‘Constitution Day’. Among the questions which would be posed on that day are the abolition of the Seanad, and changes to the Dail, presidency, government and judiciary. These could include: the investigative powers of Dail committees; judges’ salaries; judicial misconduct; changing the term of office of the presidency from 7 to 5 years; the creation of a Civil Court of Appeal and a system of family courts; and the electoral system.  Fine Gael goes on to explicitly assert, though, that: “This referendum will not address the articles dealing with rights/social policy as we want the focus to stay on political reform” (p. 62). Thus, for Fine Gael issues about the reframing of the Constitution in secular rather than religious terms are not an immediate priority (although the party has indicated that it would be willing to consider such issues at a later stage).

Overall, then, while the Fine Gael manifesto raises the future possibility of some significant advances, it is less clear in terms of setting out what the precise policy outcomes would be in these areas.

We will be publishing an analysis of each party’s manifesto as they become available.



  1. Avatar
    demotic February 15, 2011

    Don’t be too easily bought off by weak promises to ask the electorate. There is no need to ask parents or anyone else. If we had a racist law, would we put it to a public discussion or just fix it?

    This is not about suppressing religion, this is about making our schools accessible to those of any faith and none. This is about ending discriminatory hiring practices for teachers and other staff. This is about ending church interference in state education. Seriously, a public debate? It makes no sense, and is political cowardice.

  2. Avatar
    garethppls February 16, 2011

    @demotic – What FG are actually doing is saying that people of faith, and people with no faith should have a choice. People should be able to still bring their children to faith schools should they desire, but people should also be able to opt out of such arrangements. Sounds like the best solution in a pluralist society where we consider all in the population.

    Forcing all schools to be secular isn’t considering the desires of believers (of any faith). Choice provides options for both believers and non-believers, and indeed is best for all in society.

  3. Avatar
    AndrewSB49 February 16, 2011

    Why hold a forum on Church control of Education? Isn’t this the same Church found to be complicit in the cover-up of physical & sexual abuse of children – particularly in Industrial Schools. The abuses committed weren’t just physical abuse and sexual abuse – the Religious Managers of the Institutions neglected the children’s education as well as the children’s health.

    Surely any organisation/institution more concerned with protecting the institution over vulnerable communities is not fit to be involved with …. vulnerable communities.

    Fine Gael’s proposals though ARE interesting – is there an election happening, I wonder?

  4. Avatar
    Eltoten February 18, 2011

    @ garethppls The fairest arrangement would be to leave faith out of the school and thus avoid discrimination altogether. It is not feasible to try to accommodate every faith within a pluralist society. What would be more desirable is to teach children about religion, educate them about the different faiths in the world and their impact on past and present culture and society. It will increase tolerance and acceptance and give the children a chance to make up their own mind, unbiased from any predominant dogma.

  5. Avatar
    demotic February 19, 2011

    @ garethppls

    Choice, yes, choice is good. But the devil is in the detail.

    1) Before getting into how we can have faith schools and choice, it’s worth considering whether there’s a point to faith schools at all. When I was in school, I found that maths, history, science, geography, french etc, were not the least bit affected by a faith ethos. If the majority of subjects were not affected – what exactly is a faith school for?

    Well…religion class was affected, of course. And preparation for 1st communion and confirmation were organised by a close partnership with the church and the school. And needless to say, sex education and ethics were taught as being inseparable from religious considerations. That’s an indication of a problem wouldn’t you say? Ethics and sex education are things that *all* pupils should learn about, but in a faith school, only the believers of the “correct” religion get to learn about it. In my school, the protestant kid had to go sit in the library. Luckily sex-ed was so ineffectual (taught by a Christian Brother) I don’t think he missed much.

    And as for hiring and firing practices. In a faith school, even for non-affected subjects like history, the teacher has to be of the right faith. Worse, if a teacher has a baby outside wedlock, has in-vitro fertilisation, marries a divorced person – they can be sacked. This unjustified and shocking discrimination is clearly a problem, especially in a school paid for by the STATE. Even the kids are not immune, and must be of christian faith if there are more applicants than places. In the UK, statistics show that faith schools are using faith as a screen for furtively selecting based on the ability of pupils – even though the state forbids this form of selection.
    So there we have it, a faith school is a school that teaches academic subjects in exactly the same way as a secular school, but with some added discrimination based on your beliefs. Still, it must be quite convenient for the faithful getting all the religious stuff sorted out at the school, and during school hours too.

    2) Your points about allowing opt outs and giving choice to those of faith are confused in my view. Secular schools are not a system for suppressing religion. You can send your child to a secular school, to learn maths, languages etc, and still send them to mass on Sunday or to any other religious activity. Educate Together have shown how this can work, including making school facilities available for religious activities outside core school hours.
    In the US they have Sunday schools, which make a lot of sense to me.
    Please explain to me how secular schools absolutely remove choice from the faithful? I’m genuinely baffled that believers think there are good reasons that schools should be somehow made religious.

  6. Avatar
    bipedalhumanoid February 20, 2011

    If this consultation gives results anything remotely similar to the Red C poll commissioned by the Iona Institute in 2008, it should result in a reduction of catholic schools by a factor of 50%.

    Since 2008 just about everyone involved has come to agreement that we need to reduce the # of catholic schools to something representational of the wishes of parents and nobody has done anything what so ever to make it happen.

    Even Diarmuid Martin agrees that the church needs to wind back its operation here.

    People really need to be conscious of the purpose of the religion question on the census and send a big message to the new government. The wording of the question is absolutely ridiculous when you consider how the data is used. A more honest wording would go somethign like this “Which religious organisation do you want running your schools, hospitals and to receive funding for community services?”.

  7. Avatar
    Douglas Donohue February 22, 2011

    fine gael is a christian right party….No thanks

  8. Avatar
    garethppls March 17, 2011

    Good to see there’s been some update on this. I’m not going to go through everything but I will touch on a few things.

    “The fairest arrangement would be to leave faith out of the school and thus avoid discrimination altogether.”

    I disagree entirely. If there was adequate choice there would be no good reason to get rid of faith schools. If we are arguing for the right for parents who are atheists and agnostics to have the choice to bring their child to a secular school, the same should apply for Christians, Muslims and so on to bring their children to Christian, Islamic and Jewish faith schools where there is adequate and sufficient demand for such.

    “Before getting into how we can have faith schools and choice, it’s worth considering whether there’s a point to faith schools at all.”

    From an atheist point of view no precisely because learning about gods is about as useful as learning about fairies. Luckily the atheist opinion should be regarded as one opinion of many in a pluralist society. Indeed in a pluralist society this shouldn’t be assumed, and indeed it should be recognised that there is a diversity of opinion surrounding this issue. Hence choice in respect to the matter.

    Personally I’m quite happy to allow the Muslim or the Jew to send their children to Islamic or Jewish faith schools should they desire to, or indeed to secular schools should they not even if I believe that Judaism is incomplete, and the Islamic faith to be false. This is called tolerating the other in our society.

    “In the UK, statistics show that faith schools are using faith as a screen for furtively selecting based on the ability of pupils – even though the state forbids this form of selection.”

    Interesting, would you mind citing these?

    “Still, it must be quite convenient for the faithful getting all the religious stuff sorted out at the school, and during school hours too.”

    Interestingly on a personal level from discussing this with Christians I’ve found that most came to their faith on a personal reading of the Bible rather than blindly accepting everything that they hear. What such an education could provide is a place to get an experience of Christianity in order to decide whether or not they wish to accept or reject it at a later age. At least that would seem a rational approach to faith based education.

    Personally I think I would be in a situation to teach any hypothetical children I may or may not have about the ins and outs of Christianity even if I sent them to a secular school, but nonetheless I think the choice should be available to those who desire it. Just like the choice should be available to atheists and agnostics to send their children to a secular school. Indeed, if all schools were secular it wouldn’t really provide much more choice than the current situation where 92% of schools are of Roman Catholic ethos.

    “Your points about allowing opt outs and giving choice to those of faith are confused in my view.”

    I have zero issue with secular schools. What I do have issue with is people in the hypocritical situation of saying there should be more choice for atheists and agnostics and then saying there should be no choice for people of faith in our society. It’s nothing but hypocritical and its probably the worst argument from a theists perspective that an atheist could even attempt to make for secular schools.