Bishops Secretly Awarded €500,000 Annually, in Public Contracts

Atheist Ireland has uncovered evidence of excess of €500,000 of public funds awarded in secret to the Catholic Church.

Atheist Ireland has submitted Freedom of Information requests to a small sample of the Irish third level educational institutions, which deliver courses to adult citizens. These are entirely secular institutions, with no religious patron or ethos. However, from this sample alone more than €500,000 of public funds, is awarded in secret to the Roman Catholic Church annually.

There are a number of different categories of institution within the third level education sector in Ireland. Most people are familiar with universities, like Trinity College Dublin and University College Cork. There are also regional Institutes of Technology, like Dublin Institute of Technology and Cork Institute of Technology. Other institutions offer more specialised third level courses, such as the Royal College of Surgeons and the Law Society. Lastly, the Post Leaving Certificate sector also includes further education institutions, like Ballsbridge College of Further Education and Cork College of Commerce.


Legally Secular
In total, there are more than 200 institutions in Ireland offering third level education courses to adult citizens. With regard to the funding of religion, these publicly-funded bodies are in a different position to primary and secondary schools, as the constitutional provisions around the religious education of children do not apply. However, Article 44.2.2 does apply to State bodies delivering services to adult citizens and it states that:

“The State guarantees not to endow any religion.”

Atheist Ireland has investigated how closely our State-funded third level educational institutions are observing this constitutional provision, by submitting Freedom of Information requests to a sample of 13 Institutes of Technology. These public bodies were all established as entirely secular colleges under the Institutes of Technology Act, which amended the previous Regional Technical Colleges Act. The activities that these colleges may engage in are described in this primary legislation. They have no religious function whatsoever. They have no denominational patron or religious ethos either.

In fact, none of the Institutes of Technology in Ireland even know how many of their students are adherents of specific religions or how many have no religion at all. Neither do they know how many of their students actively practise their religion or how much demand there is among the student body for religious services. There is no reason at all then, why an Institute of Technology in Ireland would need to award any public money to a Church, let alone any objective justification for selecting a specific denomination for a State endowment. In fact, awarding a State-funded contract on the basis of the recipient’s religion, would not be consistent with Article 44.2.3 of the Constitution of Ireland, which states:

“The State shall not impose any disabilities or make any discrimination on the ground of religious profession, belief or status.”


FoI Results
A summary of the results from the Freedom of Information requests submitted by Atheist Ireland to a small sample of third level institutions, is provided in the table below. Every year, from this small sample alone, more than €500,000 of public money is awarded to the Roman Catholic Church in secret. These awards are for contracts to deliver chaplaincy services. However, there has been no public job advertisement or public invitation to tender for the contracts and no board decision has been recorded with respect to awarding public monies to a specific Church. Rather, the State monies are typically awarded directly to a Roman Catholic Bishop in private, who may then appoint whichever priest he prefers to the publicly-funded role.


FoI Results Summary Table

FoI Results Summary Table

Individuals with pastoral and counselling qualifications need not apply. These publicly-funded jobs are not open to lay citizens. Humanist chaplains, those from minority faiths and other secular bodies and citizens offering pastoral services, are also excluded. Public procurement guidelines and public recruitment guidelines have not been followed. There have been no criteria defined in order to select the best candidate to serve the students. Public funds have simply been awarded to a Roman Catholic Bishop without tender or advertisement and the appointment has then been made by the Bishop independently.


Gender Discrimination
It is also notable from this table that of the 12 full-time chaplains, all of them are Roman Catholic and 11 of them are male. Section 22 of the Employment Equality Act is titled “Indirect discrimination on the gender ground”. Indirect discrimination occurs when practices that do not appear to discriminate against one group more than another, actually have a discriminatory impact. This can happen on the gender ground where a requirement that may not seem to be discriminatory on a gender basis, actually does adversely impact a particular gender in practice. In this case, Institutes of Technology are allowing Roman Catholic Bishops to make appointments to State-funded jobs. While this policy may not appear to be gender-specific, the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church and specifically the gender discrimination in ordinations, in practice means that women are discriminated against in access to public appointments.

There are very many capable female citizens of Ireland, who are highly qualified for pastoral roles and would deliver a first class service to students. However, indirect discrimination means that even considering only the most devout Roman Catholics in the country, female Catholics are discriminated against and male Catholics are preferred. More broadly, within the third level education sector there is clear indirect gender discrimination against all potential female applicants, with respect to State-funded positions.


Two notable exceptions to this model are worthy of mention, which are IT Blanchardstown and Dun Laoghaire IADT. Neither of these bodies employ a chaplain and in fact both institutions have published equality policies, prohibiting sectarian discrimination based on either the religion of students or the religion of job applicants. It is disappointing to say the least that such policies are a rarity among the sample of Institutes of Technology to which Freedom of Information requests were submitted. It should be noted that there is no evidence of any adverse consequences at IT Blanchardstown or Dun Laoghaire IADT, because they provide support services to all students equally, without privileging those of one religious denomination on a sectarian basis. It also appears that devout Catholic students from IT Blanchardstown and Dun Laoghaire IADT are still able to find Mass, without the State paying for additional worship in their colleges.


Conversely, the executive management teams of some other Institutes of Technology have taken a very different approach. One Registrar told Atheist Ireland that a decision to award a secret contract to Archbishop Diarmuid Martin from public funds, was motivated by the view that “the role of compassion is central to the Christian value system”. That is, a public employee is privately awarding State monies in secret to Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, based on his own subjective sectarian opinion about which religious denomination is the most compassionate. The President of a different Institute of Technology argued that the Roman Catholic priest employed in his chaplaincy is “available to students of all denominations and none”.

Such attitudes from the executive management teams in our Institutes of Technology, demonstrate the most incredibly thoughtless disrespect towards their non-Catholic students. For example, the Registrar did not offer a view as to how compassionate his LGBT students thought that the Roman Catholic Church was during the Marriage Equality referendum campaign. He did not describe any process by which he solicited the view of unmarried parents, about the compassion or otherwise demonstrated by the Roman Catholic Church towards them. Neither was the President able to suggest how a non-Catholic student should view the doctrine of Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus, which promises eternal incineration for those not baptised into the Roman Catholic Church. Would a chaplaincy that was really intended for students of all faiths and none, require that the only possible service provider must be one that promotes such a teaching?



In term of the FoI requests submitted by Atheist Ireland, we also obtained some information on the benefits that accrue to adult citizens studying at third level educational institutions, based on the publicly-funded activities of their Roman Catholics chaplains. Some examples of what our taxes are funding have been summarised below.

Prayer Cards
Several chaplaincies provide prayer cards to students, typically with prayers to St Joseph of Cupertino, in advance of examinations. St Joseph was said to be a very stupid man, who was prone to miraculous levitation. For these reasons he is both the patron saint of test takers and the patron saint of aviators. It is not clear whether the Institutes of Technology consider it unfair for some students to have celestial assistance during examinations, from a seventeenth century flying Italian monk.

Alpha Course
Some publicly funded chaplains are involved with promoting the evangelistic Alpha Course towards adult citizens. This course is intended to introduce the basics of Christianity, in order to recruit new adherents to the faith. It is difficult to imagine a more blatant or overt breach of Article 44.2.2 than a secular State body using public funds in order to convert non-Christians citizens to the Roman Catholic faith. Other publicly-funded chaplaincies also promote vocations to the Roman Catholic priesthood.

Contractual Obligations
One difficulty with contracting for religious services, is that the terms are frequently difficult to interpret, let alone enforce. It is unclear what legal advice was offered to our Institutes of Technology before they created the following legal obligations in contracts with their chaplains:

• to respond to that which discerns, nurtures, challenges, crushes and heals the human spirit
• to support a process which reflects elements of the system back to itself, and students back to themselves
• to assist with the identification and nourishment of a value system, appropriate to belief

It is difficult to imagine how it may be legally demonstrated whether or not a chaplain is adhering to these contractual obligations. It is not clear either how the Institutes of Technology determine whether or not they are receiving value for money in relation to these services.

Student Demand
in terms of measuring students demand for the religious services provided by publicly funded chaplains, only three chaplaincies provided annual reports. The Cork IT chaplain is a Catholic priest paid circa €49,000 per annum and reports average attendance at his Lectio Divina services as 4. The IT Sligo chaplain is a Catholic priest paid circa €55,000 per annum and reports average attendance at his weekly Mass as 9. The Letterkenny IT chaplain is a Catholic priest paid circa €50,000 and his report doesn’t describe any of his religious activities at all.


The Mayo based chaplain at Galway-Mayo IT provides an example of how public tender can be used to appoint such roles. Other public bodies in Ireland (such as the Prison Service) already use the Public Appointments Service to appoint chaplains on an open and objective basis. Where religious citizens are deprived of their freedom, it is reasonable for the State to provide religious services for them. However, adult citizens studying within Institutes of Technology are hardly incarcerated within their libraries. It is not necessary then for Institutes of Technology to employ a chaplain at all but where such roles do exist, there is no reason why the third level education sector should be any less transparent than any other public body. Pastoral roles should be filled using the Public Appointments Service like other State-funded jobs.

There are however very good reasons why the Article 44.2.2 of the Constitution of Ireland, prohibits State bodies from selecting one religious denomination on a sectarian basis and awarding public funds to that Church. In the interests of their students, the third level education sector in Ireland would do well to reflect upon these reasons. In the interests of the effective and constitutional use of public funds, the government should urgently make sure that they do. This gender and sectarian discrimination is not acceptable.

“Euro Denominations” by Images_of_Money is licensed with CC BY 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit

John Hamill


  1. Avatar
    barbara mcmahon November 17, 2015

    Excellent research! Blood boiling content.

  2. Avatar
    Brendan Perry November 18, 2015

    On average the 13 students attending church services in IT Cork and IT Sligo represent a combined cost of €8000 per annum each. Throw in the magic prayer cards and I can only conclude that they must all be straight A students. If not, any chance of getting tax payers money back? Yeah right, is the Pope a Catholic?
    Excellent work John. You have uncovered another example of the “special privilege” status the Catholic Church has assumed for itself in Ireland. It is one that seems to have been given the same tacit “nod and a wink” approval by the Government and its often unaccountable Civil Service. They have ignored the Constitution and allowed for blatant religious and sexual discrimination.
    I wonder if the 2 colleges that are not involved were approached by the church looking for them to create Chaplaincy positions.
    One has “an evidence based equality policy” and one does not allow “religious discrimination”. So we have only 2 colleges that are concerned for the welfare of all their students equally.