HEA to enforce Atheist Ireland chaplain recommendations across third level sector
Atheist Ireland is pleased to announce a successful outcome to our two year campaign to make the appointment procedure for third level college chaplains publicly accountable and open to lay people. We brought Freedom of Information data to the Minister for Education, who responded by instructing the Higher Education Authority to investigate further. Atheist Ireland then met with the HEA as part of the investigation.
The Irish Times has today reported on the outcome of the HEA investigation:
- Third-level college chaplaincies to be open to lay people – Irish Times
- How much do chaplaincy services cost each third-level institution?
During 2015, Atheist Ireland submitted a detailed series of requests under the Freedom of Information Act, to the Institutes of Technology in Ireland. Those requests related to the funding of chaplaincy services in the colleges. What we discovered was a wholesale breach, across the vast majority of colleges, of public sector appointment rules. Instead of selecting the best candidate for State-funded positions using objective criteria, colleges have been simply handing large sums of public money to their local Roman Catholic bishop and allowing him to appoint a priest of his choice. However, new requirements will now be imposed on all 26 third level colleges in the State, based on the recommendations of Atheist Ireland.
The legacy sectarian appointment process for chaplains in third level colleges, discriminates against all non-Catholics and against all women (who can offer excellent pastoral services but can’t become Catholic priests). It is also a breach of Article 44.2.2 in the Irish Constitution, which requires that “The State guarantees not to endow any religion”. As a direct result of Atheist Ireland raising this issue with the Department of Education and Skills and also with the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Social Protection, an investigation by the Higher Education Authority (HEA) was established by the Minster for Education and Skills. Atheist Ireland would like to reiterate our thanks to Joan Collins TD, Clare Daly TD and Jonathan O’Brien TD for helping to raise these issues through their membership of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and using Parliamentary Questions in the Dáil.
The letter depicted below is from the Secretary General of the Department of Education and Skills to the Clerk of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Social Protection. This is the correspondence within which the investigation by the HEA was announced, following the detailed submissions from Atheist Ireland on these issues.
Following this letter, the HEA undertook their investigation, which aimed to independently reconstruct the same information that Atheist Ireland had already provided to government representatives. This investigation process also included a presentation by Atheist Ireland to the HEA investigation team, during which a detailed briefing and a formal set of recommendations were provided. The report produced as a result of this HEA investigation has now been completed, which includes a reference to the Atheist Ireland role within the process.
The HEA report confirms the original Atheist Ireland revelations, that a large majority of third level institutions in Ireland, pay significant public funds directly to Roman Catholic bishops for chaplains, without any advertisement, interview or tender. From 26 third level colleges, only three have no chaplains (NCAD, ITB and IADT). Only one college asks churches to fund their own chaplains (TCD) and one other college uses third-party funding for chaplains (DCU). There are three colleges (MIC, LIT and ITTra) which add the cost of their chaplaincies to the Student Contribution. The HEA did not ask the students in these colleges if they were aware of this or if they approved of this additional charge, which is gathered from students and paid directly to Roman Catholic bishops.
From the remaining third level colleges that fund chaplaincies directly from the block grant, the cost to the State is in excess of €1.5M per annum. This is public funding that is awarded almost entirely to the Roman Catholic Church in secret, for the provision of pastoral services that no other individual or organisation is permitted to bid for or supply (despite many others being very well qualified). The table below describes how this public funding is provided to the Church through individual colleges.
Atheist Ireland objected strongly to this situation. In addition to demanding that all chaplains should be appointed through the Public Appointments Service, Atheist Ireland also demanded that such roles should be religiously neutral and not explicitly Christian in character. This demand also relates to separate work that Atheist Ireland completed with the Comptroller and Auditor General, in regard to the State realising value-for-money with respect to chaplaincy contracts. For example, one chaplain at Cork IT is a Roman Catholic priest who is paid €66,482 per annum and reports average attendance at his Lectio Divina services as 4 (from circa 12,000 students attending the college). In part for this reason, Atheist Ireland demanded that the activities of State-funded chaplains should not be denominational in nature, especially considering the increasingly diverse nature of the student body and their questionable demand for Christian services. The only college for which a religious breakdown of students is available, is Maynooth University.
An approach to chaplaincies that is neutral with respect to different religious and non-religious philosophical convictions, would require substantial changes within the chaplaincies themselves. Today, our publicly-funded chaplains at third level are predominantly Roman Catholic priests and the services that the State purchases from them, typically include saying daily Mass. As described in the Memorandum of Understanding between these chaplains and Institutes of Technology, chaplaincy departments within our secular colleges are inspired by “Jesus of Nazareth”.
This Memorandum of Understanding does not describe how non-Christian students should view the condemnation by “Jesus of Nazareth” of non-believers or the Roman Catholic teaching of Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus. However, as a result of the recommendations from Atheist Ireland and the commensurate conclusions reached by the HEA, the provision of these chaplaincy services will now change dramatically. All of the main recommendations of Atheist Ireland have been accepted by the HEA and all 26 third level colleges in the State will now be informed by the HEA of these new requirements. The extract from the HEA report below, details the conclusions that have been reached and the next steps.
The requirement that all colleges must adhere to their constitutional obligations in chaplaincy funding (and the associated move away from clerical chaplains and towards lay chaplains) represents a vindication of the Atheist Ireland arguments on this topic over a number of years. The requirement for chaplaincy positions to be filled through the Public Appointments Service (as opposed to the existing process of simply awarding public contracts to Roman Catholic bishops in secret) also mirrors the consistent demand of Atheist Ireland throughout this process.
Atheist Ireland notes the HEA commitment to both applying these new requirements and also monitoring their implementation. As colleges look towards a new academic year in September, Atheist Ireland will also be seeking to ensure that these very welcome changes are realised in full, for the benefit of both the public purse and third level students of all faiths and none. Specifically, where the HEA requirements mention “students of all faiths”, Atheist Ireland will also seek to ensure that students of no faith are not disadvantaged in the provision of services by State-funded third level colleges.