NCCA removes names of Religious Education Reference Group members from its website
The syllabus Religious Education Course was updated in 2019. The NCCA recently removed from its website the names of the Religious Education Reference Group members who shaped the course. In the interests of transparency, we have published their names below.
This Religious Education Reference Group was heavily influenced by religious bodies whose aim is to promote religion in the education system. There were no representatives from atheist or human rights bodies.
The main aim of the course that they shaped is to develop values in students to enable them to see the relevance of religion to their lives. The course teaches students to respect beliefs and learn different understandings of the divine, even if your family does not believe there is such a thing as the divine.
The Chair of the Group was Dr. Gareth Byrne. The information that the NCCA recently removed from its website did not mention that Dr. Gareth Byrne is a Catholic priest, and Director of the Mater Dei Centre for Catholic Education at DCU.
The Group included representatives of the Irish Catholic Bishops Conference and the Church of Ireland and Methodist Boards of Education, as well as school management bodies, teachers’ unions and the Department of Education.
The syllabus Religious Education Course
The main aim of syllabus Religious Education is:
Religious education aims to develop knowledge, understanding, skills, attitudes and values to enable young people to come to an understanding of religion and its relevance to life, relationships, society and the wider world. It aims to develop the students’ ability to examine questions of meaning, purpose and relationships, to help students understand, respect and appreciate people’s expression of their beliefs, and to facilitate dialogue and reflection on the diversity of beliefs and values that inform responsible decison-making and ways of living.
In addition to the above in schools under the patronage of the Catholic Church the state syllabus is taught alongside the Guidelines for the Faith Formation and Development of Catholic students.
In Religious Education and the Framework for Junior Cycle the Catholic Bishops Conference states that:
Religious Education at Junior Cycle will continue to follow the syllabus (or subject specification for the new Junior Cycle) as agreed by the Bishops’ Conference and the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA).
Religious Education will also continue to be taught in conjunction with the Bishops’ Conference Guidelines for the Faith Formation and Development of Catholic Students.
Atheist Ireland’s Legal Opinion on the right to not attend religious instruction in schools states that the practice of combining syllabus religion with the Catholic Guidelines on faith formation represents an unlawful, systematic and stark attack on the right to not attend religious instruction in State funded schools.
“My instructions (paras 59-75) suggest that the NCCA religion course for junior certificate was moulded with input from religious bodies who in turn designed guidelines for the supplementation of the NCCA junior certificate course with Catholic faith formation and development. It is impossible in those circumstances to see any justification whatsoever for withholding the right of a student to opt out of such a course.
Teaching Catholic instruction during the State religion syllabus, without offering a supervised opt out, represents an unlawful, systematic and stark attack on the right to not attend religious instruction in State funded schools. A student must as a matter of law be permitted by the school to opt out of Catholic instructions at school (paras 76-77).”
This is how the NCCA continue to support the evangelising of minorities in the education system. Their obligation to promote human rights and eliminate discrimination does not stretch to promoting respect for the rights of atheists and secularists.
The Religious Education Reference Group
The Chair of the Religious Education Reference Group was Dr. Gareth Byrne. Dr. Gareth Byrne is also a priest and Director of the Mater Dei Centre for Catholic Education at DCU. When the Mater Dei amalgamated with DCU (a secular university) they kept their Catholic ethos.
This is what they now do in a secular university. They promote Catholic education and the Catholic ethos in publicly funded schools. They train teachers to uphold a Catholic ethos in the majority of publicly funded schools.
The NCCA did not state that Dr Gareth Byrne was a priest, or that he was representing DCU or the Mater Dei Institute on the Religious Education Reference Group. He was just listed as the Chair, before the NCCA removed all this information from their website. This information is public information, as it shows who is influencing policy in relation to the teaching of religion in schools.
These are the people and bodies who shaped public policy on how religion is taught in publicly funded schools. That influence had consequences for the rights of minorities in the education system. It also had consequences in relation to the Constitutional right of students to not attend religion classes, as it is claimed that this course is suitable for all religions and none.
The Minister for Education, Norma Foley, as well as schools and teachers, now claim that a course which has an aim to develop values in students to see the relevance of religion to their lives is suitable for students from atheist and secular backgrounds. You really couldn’t get any more disrespectful than that.
Members of the Religious Education Reference Group
- Chair – Dr/Fr Gareth Byrne, Director of the Mater Dei Centre for Catholic Education at DCU
- Council for Catechetics of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference – Dr. Amalee Meehan
- Church of Ireland Board of Education – Dr. Ken Fennelly
- Methodist Board of Education – Rev. Nigel Mackey
- Religion Teachers’ Association of Ireland – Valerie Roe
- Education and Training Boards Ireland – John Cleary
- Joint Managerial Body for voluntary secondary schools – Robert Dunne
- Association of Community & Comprehensive Schools – Patricia O’Connor
- TUI – Keith Young and Stephen O’Hara
- ASTI – Mary Deirdre Kinsella and Michael Purcell
- Department of Education & Skills – Suzanne Dillon
- State Examinations Commission – Noirin Hynes
The Toledo Guiding Principles
The Toledo Guiding Principles on teaching about religions and beliefs state that:
“Furthermore, while it is important to ensure that representatives of religious communities are allowed to give input and advice, this should not be taken to the extreme of giving them too much decision-making power at the cost of abdicating state responsibility. The European Court of Human Rights has made it clear that excessive involvement of religious authorities from one community in decisions that affect the rights of those belonging to another community may itself amount to a violation of the right to freedom of religion or belief. On the other hand, courts have recognized that mere involvement of religious representatives in bodies formulating public educational policies does not constitute excessive entanglement of religious authorities in public decision making.” (page 65)
The Toledo Guiding Principle are human rights based guidelines on teaching about religions and beliefs in schools. The Guidelines were developed by the OSCE. The Catholic Church oppose them but regardless the NCCA installed someone that is obliged to uphold Catholic educational policy on a Reference Group for religious education that is supposed to be accessible to all.
The Minister for Education and the NCCA gave religious bodies too much decision making power in formulating policy around teaching religion in schools. There were no representatives from atheist or secular backgrounds on the Religious Education reference group. Nor were there any representatives from human rights bodies to ensure that the Religious education course was in line with Constitutional and Human Rights standards.