Discrimination Against Catholics Should Be Opposed Too

The Catholic Church retains a virtual monopoly on school patronage in Ireland. They use this monopoly to discriminate against non-Catholic citizens within our public education system. This is a scandal, which must end. However, the solution to this discrimination is not to create an equal amount of indirect discrimination in the other direction. Educate Together has sought to indirectly discriminate against religious families in school admissions and this is every bit as objectionable as the Catholic Church imposing similar discriminatory admissions policies.

Access to Secondary Schools

The 2015 AGM of Educate Together included a motion that was proposed by Ballinteer Educate Together National School. The full text of the motion, which was voted upon and carried at the meeting, is described in the image below.

Educate Together

Motion from Educate Together AGM, 2015

The formal position of Educate Together therefore, is now that their secondary school admissions policies should favour children of their own ethos. Of course, there is no way to prioritise children from primary schools with an Educate Together ethos, without discriminating against other children from primary schools with say, a Roman Catholic ethos.

So consider a Roman Catholic family that lives beside an Educate Together secondary school but sends their child to a Roman Catholic primary school. If this child wished to attend the local public secondary school along with all of their friends, then they would be discriminated against by Educate Together admissions policies, purely on the basis of their parents sending them to a Roman Catholic primary school.

This new policy from their 2015 AGM was acted upon by ten Educate Together principals when they wrote to Jan O’Sullivan, the Minister for Education and Skills, stating:

“We seek an admission policy that gives priority to those students for whom the school was established, namely those who have chosen the Educate Together ethos”.

The Roman Catholic Church discriminates against non-Catholics in their school admissions policies, by giving priority to those from their own ethos. When Roman Catholic schools discriminate against non-Catholics in this way by seeking baptismal certificates, it is wrong. The legislation that provides for such lawful discrimination is anathema to a democratic Republic and it is strongly opposed by Atheist Ireland. However, it is equally wrong to impose very similar discriminatory policies in the other direction. Atheist Ireland also opposes discrimination against Roman Catholics. We should strive to remove sectarian discrimination from the system, not to create equal and opposite numbers of discriminatory policies.

For secular parents in Ireland, Educate Together schools represent by far the best available option for their children. However, many secular parents who have suffered discrimination, will also object to the introduction of new school patrons with different discriminatory policies. It would be much better if Educate Together changed their position to ensure that within their admissions policies, no child will be discriminated against based on religious ethos.

Access to Primary Schools

Unfortunately though, this is part of a pattern of Educate Together requests towards the Department of Education and Skills, seeking to impose policies that indirectly discriminate against religious families. In an email to the Department during February of 2015, an Educate Together principal stated that:

“I understand the [Department of Education and Skills] position that there should be places in the children’s local areas, but very often these families are pushed continuously to the bottom of enrolment lists because their children are not Catholic.”

That is, Educate Together also sought an admissions policy for primary schools, which prioritised children based on their religious ethos rather than just catchment area. It is certainly the case that non-Catholic children are discriminated against by State-funded Catholic schools and this should certainly be changed. However, the process of campaigning for non-discriminatory admissions policies within our school system is not helped by Educate Together seeking to implement new policies, which indirectly discriminate against children from religious families.

It would be useful to consider this policy in the context of the Equal Status Act and European law. Specifically, the Educate Together policy seems to fit neatly within the definition of indirect discrimination on the religion ground. Is it really necessary for a parent to take a case against Educate Together alleging indirect religious discrimination before this policy is changed?


Atheist Ireland asked the Association of Catholic Priests, the Catholic Bishops’s Conference and the Iona Institute for their views on this new Education Together policy. None of these organisations had any comment to make. That’s right … when presented with State-funded schools seeking to discriminate against Roman Catholic families purely on the basis of their religious ethos, none of these Roman Catholic organisations could find a single word of complaint on the matter.

This is something that Educate Together might reflect upon. Why would it be the case that the Catholic Church is so sanguine about Educate Together getting into the business of enforcing indirect discrimination based on religious ethos within our education system?



This article was updated to reflect the fact that the correspondence to Jan O’Sullivan came from ten Educate Together principals and the correspondence to the Department of Education and Skills officials came from an Educate Together principal. Both items of correspondence were consistent with Education Together policy, as described above and in the original text of this article.


John Hamill


  1. Avatar
    Pat McGrath October 17, 2015

    So consider an atheist family who have an interest in their child’s education and can’t countenance sending them to a religious school so find an educate together primary school at some distance from where they live and for the eight years their child is in Primary they work with the school, volunteering and fundraising because they believe that Educate Together is the way forward and when their child is ready for Secondary School they find an Educate Together Secondary School at considerable distance from their house because to send ther child to a religious school after 8 years of Educate Together would be cruel and unusual. Should their child miss out on a place in the Educate Together Secondary school to a child of a Catholic Family who chose the school just because it’s handy for them?

  2. Avatar
    John Hamill October 17, 2015

    Firstly, I think that scenario is not at all an unlikely one. I’m quite sure it happens regularly in Ireland. It’s a scandal and it needs to be fixed.

    Secondly, I think that the way to fix it is to remove sectarian discrimination from schools admissions policies … not to create new discriminatory policies. It’s also the case that addressing admissions policies in isolation will not solve the problems for non-Catholics in the education system.

    The Atheist Ireland approach to this issue is described in the Schools Equality PACT. We believe that policies discriminating on religious ethos (whether applied by the Catholic Church or applied by Educate Together) are counter-productive in terms of achieving these goals.

  3. Avatar
    Jeanne Rathbone October 18, 2015

    Children are not born with religious beliefs and we should be against segregation based on parents supernatural beliefs. So therefore it is only right that we should not discriminate against children because of their parents religious label. All schools should include awareness of philosophy and ethics which would include an acknowledgment of humanism, atheism and religious beliefs and an examination of the divisive issues that arise from religious dogma.

    I can understand the frustration of parents who are committed to the ethos of Educate Together who might not have a choice for their child to get into their nearest school because children of religious parents who decide that they want the nearest school. Just because these parents inflicted an infant exorcism on their children when they had them baptised and then persisted on forcing the hideous religious ritual of ‘confession’ and the cannibalism of ‘communion’ on their children we should not deny them the right to attend an Educate Together school and reap the benefit of such an ethos. Surely, this is one obvious way to stop the divi senses of sectarian schooling?