Secular Sunday #509 – Misuse of public funds for in-service teacher training

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Misuse of public funds for in-service teacher training


Atheist Ireland wrote a few weeks ago to the Minister for Education, the Oireachtas Education Committee, and the Comptroller and Auditor General about the misuse of public funds for in-service training of religion teachers in conjunction with Roman Catholic Diocesan Advisers.

We did so after a teacher was given an anti abortion video as a resource for curriculum RE during in-service training. We had previously obtained a letter from 2001 under the Freedom of Information Act that is relevant to this issue.

In that letter, the then Minister for Education, Michael Woods, told the National Association of Post Primary Diocesan Advisers Co-ordinators it was not possible to have Diocesan Advisers present at in-service courses for Junior Certificate Religious education or to fund local in-service by Diocesan Advisers.

We have received initial responses from the various people that we have written to, and the matter is being investigated. We will publish further details when we have them. If you would like to help us with this and other work, please join Atheist Ireland as a member. We are a voluntary body with no staff and we depend on our members to continue 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

An article from a few weeks back…

The Department of Education misuses public funds for in-service training of religion teachers


Atheist Ireland has written to the Minister for Education and the Comptroller and Auditor General about the misuse of public funds for in-service training of religion teachers in conjunction with Roman Catholic Diocesan Advisers. This is the letter that we have sent to the Minister.
We also attach a letter from the then Minister for Education in 2001 which acknowledges that it is not possible to have Diocesan Advisors at inservice courses for Junior Certificate Religious Education and that funding for local inservice by Diocesan Advisors is not possible.
Dear Minister Foley,
We are seeking information on the amount of State funds used over the years for in-service between the Religious Education Support Service, the PDST and the Catholic Church. We believe that this is a misuse of public funds. It is also an endowment of religion forbidden by Article 44.2.2 of the Constitution and religious discrimination under Article 44.2.3. We are also making a formal complaint to the Comptroller and Auditor General in relation to the misuse of public funds.
The Information Commissioner has recently ruled in favour of Mr. John Hamill of the Freethought Prophet podcast and blog that the Department of Education was not justified in refusing access to certain records relating to the PDST on the grounds that they are not held by the Department or do not exist or cannot be found.
The PDST are jointly presenting at in-service for curriculum Religious Education teachers alongside Catholic Diocesan Advisers. The curriculum Religion Teachers who attend these in-service days are from schools under Catholic patronage as well as ETB schools and colleges including non designated Community Colleges. As far as we are aware the PDST do not present or attend any other in-service days with other religions or beliefs.
Curriculum Religious Education is a core subject in the vast majority of schools. Parents and students are coerced into the course on the basis that it is not religious instruction but religious education despite the fact that the Supreme Court has found that the rights of parents in relation to the Religious and moral education of their children under Article 42.1 must be read in conjunction with Article 44.2.4, the right to not attend religious instruction (Justice Barrington, Campaign case 1998).
Diocesan Advisers are employees of local Catholic dioceses whose concern is the catechetical programme in post primary schools. Their primary role is to ensure that the provisions for teaching religious instruction and formation are upheld, particularly in terms of content and in terms of timetabling allocations. Diocesan Advisers organise an annual in-service for the religious education teachers of a diocese.
This gathering introduces teachers to leading speakers in the catechetics of faith development. Diocesan Advisers also organise other less formal in-services which are arranged on a local (school cluster) basis. See “The Role of the Diocesan Advisor for Post-Primary Religious Education” published by the Irish Catholic Bishops Conference in 2004. See press release.
A recent article in the Sunday Times and Irish Examiner has focused on the fact that a curriculum Religious Education teacher was given an anti abortion video as a resource for curriculum RE during in-service between the Catholic Church and the PDST.
When curriculum Religious Education was introduced it was made clear by the then Minster, Michael Woods, to Fr. Donal O’Neill, Chairperson of the National Association of Post Primary Diocesan Advisers co-ordinators that it was not possible to have Diocesan Advisers present at in-service courses for Junior Certificate Religious education and why funding for local in-service by Diocesan Advisers was not possible. We attach below this letter from 2001.
We are also providing a link to an article by Mr. John Hamill of the Freethought Prophet podcast and blog, who has been trying for years to get information on these particular in-service courses. This article refers to comments by Noel Farrell, an Assistant Principal Officer within the Department of Education and Skills (DoES) who has described the position of the PDST at these events as providing curriculum and pedagogical expertise. He stated that there were no documents in relation to reports or payments because these were not PDST events.
The PDST was established in 2010 and is funded by the Teacher Education Section of the Department of Education and is managed by Dublin West Education Centre. The attendance of the PDST at any in-service events organised by the Diocesan Advisers uses state resources because the staff are paid by the State and there are also transport cost involved. In addition curriculum RE teachers are paid by the state to attend in-service for Catholic faith formation and instruction.
The Department of Education are aware that PDST staff who are funded by the Department are providing curriculum and pedagogical expertise for curriculum Religious Education teachers at events organised by Catholic Diocesan Advisers for a Catholic catechetical programme in post primary schools whose primary role is to ensure that the provisions for teaching Catholic religious instruction and formation are upheld.
These events between the publicly funded PDST and the Catholic Church undermine the constitutional right of parents in relation to the religious and moral education of their children. It uses state funding to legitimise the integration of catholic faith formation (The Guidelines for the Faith Formation and Development of Catholic students) in curriculum Religious Education in a course that the Department claims is for all religions and none and where most schools and teachers inform parents that it is suitable for all religions and none. Read more…

Below is an article from 2018

Professional Development Service for Teachers won’t answer about in-service training with Catholic Church


Atheist Ireland recently used the Freedom of Information Act to ask some questions of the Professional Development Service for Teachers (PDST), which is a State-funded body that provides in-service training for teachers, about its relationship with the Catholic Church when providing such training for religion teachers.
The PDST gave us incomplete, misleading, and contradictory answers to our requests. When we appealed the responses under the Act, the PDST changed track. They told us that they were not subject to the Freedom of Information Act, because they are a private body, and the Office of the Information Commissioner agreed with them.
Consequently, a body that is State-funded but has no legal status, is now working with the Roman Catholic Church to deliver in-service training to religion teachers in State-funded schools, without any day-to-day role for the Department of Education in supervising this work. Furthermore, there is no public accountability in relation to how this work is conducted.

  1. Background: Department used to provide in-service training
  2. Today: PDST and Catholic Church provide in-service training
  3. This seems to breach the Constitutional ban on endowing religion
  4. Extracts from Atheist Ireland’s questions and PDST response
  5. Atheist Ireland’s follow-up with the PDST
  6. Atheist Ireland’s appeal of the PDST responses
  7. Review by the Office of the Information Commissioner
  8. Conclusion

1. Background: Department used to provide in-service training
Here is the background to this situation. Until 2010, the in-service training of working teachers was an internal function within the Department of Education.
Before this date, representatives of the Catholic Church had sought to become involved with in-service training days for religion teachers. The then Minister for Education responded to make it clear that no Catholic Church representatives could participate in publicly-funded in-service teacher training, and that no State resources could be made available for any in-service teacher training that was arranged by the Catholic Church.
Today, this situation has been entirely reversed. In 2010, in-service training for teachers was carved out of the Department of Education and into the fully State-funded Professional Development Service for Teachers (PDST), which was created for this purpose.
Now, publicly-funded in-service training for religion teachers includes detailed involvement of the Roman Catholic Church, and the Department of Education plays no role in this work.
On 2nd June 2001, the then Minister for Education, Michael Woods, wrote to Fr Donal O’Neill, the Chairperson of the National Association of Diocesan Advisors. This letter included the following statement:

“I understand that it was appreciated and accepted by members of your association why it is not possible to have Diocesan Advisors at inservice courses for Junior Certificate Religious Education, and why funding for local inservice by Diocesan Advisors is not possible.”

2. Today: PDST and Catholic Church provide in-service training
More recently though, in-service training for religion teachers has been provided jointly by the PDST and the Catholic Church. There are examples of such practice from right across the country. For example, details of one such event in Kerry (held on February 12th 2016) are described here and other similar events in Dublin are described here. In fact, at the in-service day described in the document illustrated below (that included a PDST representative), Veritas products were promoted to religion teachers in Monaghan. Read more…

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  $33,975 to 1184 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 1873 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 4,084 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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Please consider joining or re-joining Atheist Ireland

Atheist Ireland is an entirely volunteer run organisation. We receive no grants or government funding to continue our campaign work. We rely entirely on membership fess and donations.

Annual membership is nominal; €25 waged, €10 unwaged/student and €40 for family membership. Please consider becoming a member. Membership means:

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Atheist Ireland Committee


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




Access to mother and baby homes redress scheme to be widened.

By Arthur Beesley


Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman has moved to widen access to a redress scheme for survivors of mother and baby homes beyond the terms recommended by the commission of investigation. Read more…

Delays in accessing abortions in Ireland are violating women’s rights, says expert.

By Kitty Holland


Major human rights violations which are “embedded” in the 2018 abortion legislation must be addressed as part of a forthcoming review, a human rights expert has warned. Read more…


Atheist Groups Urge Supreme Court to Uphold Roe v. Wade in MS Abortion Case

By Hemant Mehta


While the conservative majority on the Supreme Court has allowed Texas’ Abortion Bounty law to go into effect — effectively banning abortion in that state — they will soon have a chance to overturn Roe v. Wade nationwide. They announced yesterday that they will hear, on December 1, a case regarding abortion law in Mississippi called Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. SCOTUS watchers fear the Trump appointees on the Court will use the opportunity to ban legal abortion across the country. Read more…

Lawful Discrimination: The Abuses of Religious Freedom in U.S. Healthcare

By Sonja Spoo


I REALLY DON’T UNDERSTAND. I need my birth control or the pain becomes unbearable. They keep saying they can’t give it to me because this place is Catholic, but I don’t understand why that matters. I’m not Catholic! Why can they give me my depression meds but not my birth control?”My mind was racing, trying to process all the details as they were relayed to me in a halting, dismayed voice. I gently worked to clarify the situation. Thinking through which partner to reach out to, I tried comforting the distressed caller. Read more…

Polish region withdraws anti-LGBT resolution amid EU funding threat

By Daniel Tilles


A Polish region has become the first to withdraw its declaration against “LGBT ideology”. It and four other provinces have recently had talks over EU funds “put on hold” by the European Commission until they address concerns over their anti-LGBT resolutions.. Read more…

Persecution of Ahmadiyya community in Pakistan



The International Forum for Right and Security (IFFRAS) said that the organisations are documenting the systematic persecution endured by the Ahmadiyya Muslim community at the hands of religious extremists and state institutions. In the latest incident, a Khatm-e-Nabuwat Conference that was held on September 12 under the aegis of Jamiat-e-Ulema Pakistan, presided over by JUP (Punjab) Deputy President Maulana Hafiz Muhammad Saleem and the Ulema, demanded that the government remove Qadinias (Ahmadiyyas) from key posts. Read more…

Lawyers Write Buhari Over 17-month Illegal Detention Of Outspoken Atheist, Bala For Alleged Blasphemy

By Saharareporters

Four human rights lawyers have written President Muhammadu Buhari over the continued illegal detention of Mubarak Bala. Bala, who is the president of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, was arrested at his home in Kaduna State on April 28, 2020, over his Facebook post considered to be critical of Islam. Read more…


They were a missionary, a Muslim and an evangelical but are now atheists. Why?

By Deena Yellin


Tom Van Denburgh’s transformation from believer to skeptic didn’t come in a sudden, “a-ha!” moment. It was more like a slow, steady trek toward a new truth.
Growing up in the northern New Jersey suburbs, Van Denburgh attended a private Christian academy with “an overemphasis on hell and brimstone” and an unhealthy preoccupation with Satan, he recalls
Read more…

One in four Americans identify as Nones. Why are millions leaving organized religion?

By Deena Yellin


They are ex-missionaries and military pilots, yoga instructors and computer programmers, mothers, fathers, professors and political activists.Some left religion on a rocky, anguished path, stung by abuse or shunned by family. Others came to the realization slowly, after a lifetime of questions they couldn’t shake.  Jay Brown was the missionary. Raised in small-town Iowa, he traveled the world spreading the Lord’s Gospel until two years ago, when he realized he was an atheist. Read more…

Most Germans find religion unimportant, survey shows

By DW Reporters


A significant majority of Germans say religion plays no role in their life, a poll has shown. Fewer than one in eight adults believe that faith makes the world a fairer place, although younger people were more positive. Read more…

Beware the government’s “new normal” of faith-based public services

By Megan Manson


A new government fund exclusively for faith groups threatens to embed religious privilege into public services, warns Megan Manson. The Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government has recently announced a new £1 million pilot fund for organisations that provide community services. But there’s a catch – your organisation has to be faith-based in order to qualify. Read more…

Humanist International supports Greek parents’ plea on religious education exemption in schools

By Humanists International


On 31 October 2019, the European Court of Human Rights found that the system in Greece for exempting children from religious education classes was a violation of Article 2 of Protocol No. 1 (right to education) to the European Convention on Human Rights, interpreted in the light of Article 9 (freedom of thought, conscience, religion, and belief) in Judgment Papageorgiou and Others v. Greece. Read online…

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Podcasts, Videos and Interviews


Do you host an Irish-based podcast on atheism, secularism, science, skepticism, human rights etc.? Let us know and we will link to it here.



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