Secular Sunday #506 – Another €9.8 million for ETB chaplains

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Another €9.8 million for ETB chaplains


The Department of Education spends €9.8 million per year on 156 Chaplains in ETB schools, which are supposed to be the State alternative to denominational schools.

The Supreme court has found that they are allowed to do this, as it is not endowing religion but helping parents with the religious formation of their children.

But the State is equally obliged to help nonreligious parents with the moral foundation of their children, in accordance with their nonreligious consciences. Needless to say, they don’t do that while they give privilege to religious families.

And the Department, as well as schools, believe that they have the right to decide for parents and their children what is or is not against their conscience despite their constitutional rights. The State can’t legally do that.

Atheist Ireland will continue to help parents to vindicate their constitutional right for their children to not attend religion class, whatever name the school gives to that class, and to be supervised outside the class or ideally be given an alternative subject.

If you would like to help us to continue this work, please join Atheist Ireland as a member, We are a voluntary body with no paid staff and we depend on our members to keep up our work. You can join here

– Secular Sunday Editorial Team

Éire Aindiach

Éire Aindiach


Chun ár gcuid feachtais a leathnú agus a neartú, tá sé beartaithe ag Éire Aindiach níos mó úsáid a bhaint as an Ghaeilge.
Ba mhaith linn meitheal a eagrú, chun cuidiú le:
  • Polasaithe agus feachtais Éire Aindiach a phlé ar an raidió nó ar an teilifís
  • Cuidiú le doiciméid ghaeilge a scríobh
  • Bualadh le polaiteoirí chun stocaireacht a dhéanamh
Táimid i mbun aistriúcháin a dhéanamh ar dhoiciméid polasaí faoi láthair, agus teastaíonn cabhair uainn le aistriúchán agus profáil.  Más maith leat bheith páirteach san iarracht seo, cur ríomhphost chugainn ag
English translation:

To broaden and strengthen our campaigns, Atheist Ireland have undertaken to make more use of the Irish language.
We are looking to assemble a group of volunteers, to help with:

  • Discussing our policies and campaigns on radio or tv
  • Helping to write documents in Irish
  • Meeting with politicians to lobby them
We are in the process of translating policy documents at the moment, and we need some help with translating and proofreading.  If you would like to assist with this effort, please email us at

Atheist Ireland News


Another school year, and another €9.8 million for faith formation in ETBs


Back to school and back to €9.8 million for faith formation in ETB schools and colleges. That’s how much the Department of Education spends per year on 156 Chaplains in ETB schools, which are supposed to be the alternative to denominational schools.
This €9.8 million is paid to help Catholic and Church of Ireland parents with the faith formation of their children. The vast bulk of the €9.8 million goes to helping Catholic parents.
There is plenty of funding to help Catholic parents with the faith formation of their children in ETB schools, but none to give minorities another subject if they manage to exercise their constitutional right for their children to not attend religion.
The vast majority of ETBs make religion mandatory, using the false argument that they don’t teach religious instruction but religious education. There is no legal basis to this claim, and students are coerced or forced into taking religion classes against the wishes of their parents. If they do manage to exercise their constitutional right they are left sitting in the religion class and no other subject is offered. This is religious discrimination.
Not endowing religion, but helping parents
The Supreme Court found that the funding of Chaplains was not contrary to Article 44.2.2 of the Constitution, which forbids the State from endowing any religion.
It found that in funding the role of Chaplains in ETB schools, the State was not endowing a religion, but was helping parents with the religious formation of their children.
The funding of Chaplains was therefore sanctioned under Article 42.4, which states that:

The State shall provide for free primary education and shall endeavour to supplement and give reasonable aid to private and corporate educational initiative, and, when the public good requires it, provide other educational facilities or institutions with due regard, however, for the rights of parents, especially in the matter of religious and moral formation.

Justice Keane in the Campaign case at the Supreme Court said that:

I would entirely agree with this conclusion that, in any event they are constitutionally sanctioned, having regard to the recognition in Article 42.4 of the right of parents in relation to the religious and moral formation of their children.

Chaplains instructing children in religion
The Supreme Court also said in the Campaign case that it was constitutionally impermissible for a Chaplain to instruct a child in a religion other than its own without the knowledge and consent of its parents.
This is not written into the contract of Chaplains, nor is it in the Education Act 1998. Chaplains and Religion teachers instruct students in a religion other than their own all the time, and probably are not even aware that they are breaching the constitutional rights of parents.
They believe that they have the right to decide for parents and their children what is or is not against their conscience despite the constitutional rights of parents under Article 42.1 of the constitution.
It is not up to Catholic chaplains, teachers, Minister Foley, the NCCA, Patron bodies or schools to decide what is or is not against the conscience of parents given the rights of parents under the Constitution.
Atheist Ireland will continue to campaign for the Constitutional rights of parents and the right to freedom of religion and belief. Read online…

A relevant article from 2019…

Community National Schools learning outcomes were changed from understanding religion to respecting it


The Catholic Bishops wrote to Education and Training Boards Ireland (ETBI) in February 2017 stating that the Goodness Me Goodness You course (GMGY) in Community National Schools did not constitute a viable programme for faith nurturing and sacramental education.
This was after the Senior part of the GMGY course was developed by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment and launched in Community National schools in 2016.
The records (got under FOI) show that the NCCA and the School Network meeting were happy with the Senior part of the GMGY course that was launched in 2016.

Despite this, the Senior part of the GMGY course was amended, and launched with the Junior end of the course in 2018. It was a major change in direction for the course.
The relevant changes to the GMGY course were learning outcomes that require children to respect religious beliefs, celebrations, artefacts, rites and ceremonies, special places, books and stories, special journeys, codes of conduct, places, and symbols.
Before that, the learning outcomes only required children to understand these things, not to respect them.
This change (from requiring children to understand religion to requiring them to respect religion) reflects the educational philosophy of the Catholic Church. It is not objective and up to human rights standards.
Also, the 2018 Curriculum does not use the phrase ‘Belief Nurturing,’ but it retains the processes that were described as ‘Belief Nurturing’ in the 2016 curriculum. The only thing that has changed is that they no longer use that phrase to describe the same processes.
It seems that the Catholic Bishops in Ireland still have a lot of control over how religion is taught in Irish schools. Not only denominational schools but it seems their influence can shape how curriculum courses on religion are developed for state schools. Read more…

Some ETB schools are denominational not multi denominational, read our article from 2020

Minister confirms that many ETB schools are denominational


UPDATE: The Department of Education has told Atheist Ireland that the Minister for Education gave incorrect information in the response to this parliamentary question. You can read about the updated situation here.
The Minister for Education Joe McHugh has confirmed that a quarter of ETB Community Colleges are denominational (61 out of 243), and that all except two of the Community Schools that the ETBs jointly run are Catholic (80 out of 82). The rest of the ETB Community Colleges are officially multi-denominational (182).
This is despite parents being repeatedly told that ETB schools are the State-run alternative to denominational schools, previous Ministers and Circular Letters from the Department describing ETB schools as multi-denominational and not denominational, and the practice on the ground often being denominational and Catholic.
The figures come in a reply from the Minister to Ruth Coppinger TD, who had asked the number of schools each patron body is a patron of at primary and second level.

  • At primary level, the Catholic Church directly runs 2,740 out of 3,130 schools, or 87.5% of all schools. Most of the rest are run by other religious bodies. There are 91 Educate Together primary schools (2.9%), and 21 ETB primary schools (0.7%).
  • At second level, the Catholic Church directly runs 326 out of 721 schools, or 45.2% of all schools. The ETBs run 182 multi-denominational Community Colleges (25.2%), and 61 denominational Community Colleges (8.5%). The ETBs also jointly run 80 Catholic Community Schools along with the Catholic Church (11.1%).
  • 22 Schools where the Minister for Education is patron are also denominational. This includes 9 primary schools (0.3%), five of which are Catholic and four of which are Protestant. It also includes 13 Comprehensive schools at second level (1.8%) which were involved in the Supreme Court case about payment of chaplains.

Parents and students have been misled too long about the denominational nature of ETB schools. The issue can only be resolved when everybody is open about what is actually happening.
Normalised Catholic practices in ETB schools
In October 2019 the Irish Times published details of an internal ETBI report that vindicated what Atheist Ireland had been saying for years about the teaching of religion in ETB schools. You can read that internal ETBI report here.
The ETBI report said that Catholic practices had been ‘normalised’ in many multi-denominational State schools. It noted that many “non-designated” schools had graduation Masses, symbols from the Catholic faith only, and visits from Catholic religious representatives.
Nessa White, ETBI’s general secretary, acknowledged the difficulties the sector faced in defining what is meant by “multi-denominational” in ETB schools with legal agreements with religious patrons.
But now the Minister for Education has confirmed that the ETB schools that have legal agreements with religious patrons are officially denominational, not multi-denominational. And in any case, even ETB schools that do not have such legal agreements have a Catholic ethos on the ground.
That was the reason that the Department of Education issued the two Circular Letters in 2018 to ETB schools about religious instruction and worship. It was to counter the denominational practice of these ETB schools providing Catholic religious instruction and worship.
Previous Ministerial statements about ETB school status
Here are some examples of previous Ministerial statements describing ETB second-level schools as multi-denominational.
In January 2018, Circular Letter 0013/2018 regarding religious instruction in ETB schools, it stated:

“In establishing Community and VEC schools (now ETB schools) the State set a multi- denominational basis for religious worship and instruction… This circular does not alter that multi-denominational basis by which religious instruction is provided or amend any of the deeds, or legal instruments concerned.”

In May 2018, Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Education whether, to be truly multi-denominational, a school must give equal weight to the background of all students and ensure the majority view is not allowed to dictate the ethos of the school. Read more…

Know your rights


Parents have a constitutional right (Art 42) to ensure that their children do not attend any type of religious & moral education that is against their conscience. It is not up to Norma Foley,  Patron bodies, schools or teachers to decide what is or is not suitable religious and moral education.

The right to ‘not attend’ religious instruction in schools is not part of the ethos of schools. It is a constitutional right & a condition of state funding. It is the duty of @NormaFoleyTD1 to protect this right and ensure that it is given practical application. It is a duty she ignores.

Calling concerned teachers

If you are a teacher and concerned about unwanted religious influence contact Chris at

List of Atheist Ireland Submissions

Buy this book “Is My Family Odd About Gods?”

**Schools Special Offer**
Atheist Ireland are offering the book ‘Is my family odd about godsfree (excluding postage and packaging).  This means that you can get this book for the total price of 10 euro. This offer is aimed at families with school going children, who would like to read this book. This offer is limited to one book per family unit and for postage within Ireland only. Read more…

Have you noticed that your school and your teachers may tell you one thing about religion, while some of your friends and family may have different ideas about god?
If you think that this is a little odd, then this book is for you. Buy this book here.

Lessons about Atheism

Atheist Ireland has published a set of free lesson plans about atheism for children aged 8 and up. We welcome feedback, which we will use to develop the lessons. You can download the lesson plans here

Be Good without Gods

Atheist Ireland ‘Good Without Gods’ Kiva team members have made loans of  $33,600 to 1169 entrepreneurs in the developing world. You can join the team here. Before you chose a loan, make sure you do not support religious groups. You can check the loan partner’s social and secular rating here.

Atheist Ireland’s ‘‘ is a place where people can publicly renounce the religion of their childhood. Currently there are 1872 symbolic defections. Many share their reasons for making a public symbolic defection which you can read here

Petition on Schools Equality PACT 

Atheist Ireland currently runs one petition – The Schools Equality PACT. This seeks to reform religious discrimination in state-funded schools. Currently this stands at 4,081 Help us reach it’s target of 5000. Please sign and share this petition if you haven’t already done so. Thank you.

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Opinion and Media

Material on atheism, secularism, human rights,politics,science etc. collected from media and the blogosphere from Ireland and beyond; used without permission, compensation, liability, guarantee or implied endorsement. We aim to include a variety of diverse opinions and viewpoints.


Blogs & Opinions




A teacher writes: Sacramental preparation should not be a school responsibility

By Aoife McCloskey


Sometimes there are traditions that are so deep-rooted in our practice that we do not even question them. Ireland is unusual in that there still exists a close link between the church and primary schools. In other countries, families who choose to have their child receive religious sacraments are facilitated by the parish, and the ceremony is completely external from school life. In Ireland, parishes continue to rely on the heavy involvement of schools in the preparation of children for the sacraments of Communion and Confirmation. Read more…

Time to remove crucifix from the classroom

By Paul O’Connell


I  can’t but notice over here across the pond the debate as to whether so-called Catholic schools have any future, or have a right to continue to exist in Northern Ireland. I taught for 10 years in west Belfast and Downpatrick. I am also a past pupil of the so-called Catholic schools in the Republic.. Read online…

Unapologetically Catholic parent-run private school is seeking move to Corks Popes Quay

By Catherine Shanahan


A STAUNCHLY Catholic independent parent-run private school, the first of its kind in Ireland, is hoping to move into the Dominican Centre on Pope’s Quay, according to a planning application lodged with Cork City Council by the Dominican Order. The Mater Dei Academy, based on an “unapologetically Catholic” education model, has been operating out of a premises on Ferry Lane, near St Mary’s Church, for the past year, but is hoping to move to the Dominican Pastoral Centre, near St Mary’s Dominican Church and Priory, on the corner of Mulgrave Road and Pope’s Quay. Read more…


Ordo Iuris and a global web of ultra-conservative organisations

By Ordo Iuris


International networks of ultra-conservative organisations have become a serious player in Central and Eastern Europe. They eradicate liberal values, tighten the law, change the language of the debate, fill key positions and build political influence. Networks of ultra-conservative organisations can be likened to a spider that has spun a global web and continues to build additional sections that link new countries. When we set out to uncover who is behind the new clones, we find out the same people and the same entities. Read more…

Religious groups shamed over failures to report child sexual abuse

By David Brown


Religious organisations are failing to report child abuse because of victim-blaming, “shame and honour” and ideas of sexual “purity”, an inquiry has found. Abuse has been found in most of the main UK religions, according to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), which also highlighted the abuse of power by religious leaders and a mistrust of the government because of concerns about persecution or discrimination. Read more…


Polish state pays over 1 billion zloty a year to Catholic catechism teachers, find activists

By Daniel Tilles


Teachers of Catholic catechism classes in Polish state schools are together paid over 1 billion zloty (€220 million) a year, according to public data obtained by a secularist organisation. Schools in Poland are obliged to offer “religion” classes. These are funded by the state but controlled by the Catholic church, which chooses teachers and curriculums. The lessons are optional, but a majority of pupils attend them – though evidence indicates that the proportion is falling fast. Read more…

Texas takes a chainsaw to women’s rights

By Alistair Dawber


Bryan Hughes was basking in the glow of the most restrictive American abortion law for almost half a century. A committed pro-life Republican who says he knows the “unsurpassed blessing of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ”, the Texan state senator is the author of the first so-called “heartbeat” bill to become law in America. Read more…


Fanatics can be beaten — if we admit it’s their faith that motivates them

By Matthew Syed


It is strange to think that almost 20 years have passed since we watched those images, unreal and yet so emphatic, of planes hitting the twin towers. The plot was audaciously executed, 19 men hijacking airliners and turning them into precision-guided missiles. Read more…


Texas Talibanistas, take note: freedom will win

By Amanda Foreman


The pro-life movement in America finally got its wish this week: a little before midnight on Wednesday, in a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled against temporarily blocking a Texas state law passed in May, known as Senate Bill 8 (SB8), banning almost all abortions once a heartbeat can be detected by ultrasound — which is around six weeks after conception. Read more…


Abuse is rife in unregistered schools that exploit legal loophole

By Tom Ball & Nicola Woolcock


Violence was a form of discipline at Samuel’s school: one teacher meted out beatings with a soup ladle; another preferred to use his belt. Once, when Samuel was 13, a teacher struck him with such force that he blacked out. The headmaster told him to keep quiet about the incident. Only when that same teacher broke the leg of another pupil was he dismissed.Read more…


Child abuse inquiry criticises religious groups’ “egregious failings”

By The National Secular Society


There are “egregious failings” in the way various religious organisations have handled child abuse, with a variety of cultural factors contributing to the problem, an inquiry has said.The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) published a report on child protection in religious organisations and settings today. Read more…

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