Documents about misuse of state funds regarding religious instruction

Since December 2021, Atheist Ireland has been lobbying to vindicate the constitutional right to not attend religious instruction in schools, and to uphold parental authority in the education of their children, which the Supreme Court has described as a foundational pillar of the Constitution.

As well as lobbying individual politicians and the Oireachtas Education Committee, we have met with the Department of Education and the NCCA. As these constitutional requirements are conditions of the funding of schools, we have also engaged with the Oireachtas Committee on Public Accounts, the Comptroller and Auditor General, and the Minister for Finance.

We are publishing all of our correspondence on this issue here, so that you can follow how the arguments have evolved.

Correspondence leading up to our complaint

  • On 21 August 2021, we wrote to the Oireachtas Education Committee regarding students not attending religious instruction in schools and a recent anti-abortion video shown in a school.
  • On 6 September 2021, we wrote to the Minister for Education and made a complaint to the Comptroller and Auditor General about the misuse of public funds in this context.
  • On 14 September 2021, the Oireachtas Education Committee forwarded our letter to the Secretary General of the Department, and asked him to respond directly to us and to copy his response to them.
  • On 26 November 2021, Martin McLoughlin, Principal Officer at the Department, responded to our letter, and copied his response to the Oireachtas Education Committee.
  • On 17 December 2021, we responded in detail to Mr McLoughlin’s letter, explaining how the Department was addressing these issues outside of its Constitutional duties and using key definitions that are different to those determined by the Supreme Court. We copied this response to the Oireachtas Education Committee.

26 December 2021 – Atheist Ireland writes to C&AG and PAC

We sent a major report to the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee. We argued that the Department of Education and the NCCA are misusing public funds by ignoring constitutional conditions about the right to not attend religious education in schools.

You can read this report in PDF format here.

Or you can read this report in html at these links in three parts:

The Public Accounts Committee and the Comptroller and Auditor General acknowledged receipt of this report. The C&AG said they had sent it to the unit responsible for the audit of the Department of Education and NCCA for consideration.

17 January 2022 – Minister for Education writes to Atheist Ireland

The Minister for Education wrote to Atheist Ireland. It is the same letter that a Department official sent to us on 26 November 2021, but with the Minister’s signature.

23 January 2022 – Atheist Ireland writes to Minister for Education

Atheist Ireland responded to the Minister for Education. We copied the letter to the Oireachtas Education and Public Accounts Committees and the Comptroller and Auditor General.

8 and 15 February 2022 – Atheist Ireland writes to C&AG and PAC

Following the Supreme Court judgment in the Burke case, Atheist Ireland wrote again to the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Public Accounts Committee.

1 March 2022 – Atheist Ireland arranges meeting with Department of Education

At an eduction event in Croke Park, we talked with the Minister for Education and senior officials from the Department. We arranged to have a meeting with the Department to discuss our report.

8 March 2022 – NCCA writes to PAC

After our report to the Public Accounts Committee, the Committee wrote to the NCCA for a response. This is the response that the NCCA sent to the Public Accounts Committee. We did not see this letter until 17 May.

25 March 2022 – Department of Education writes to PAC

After our report to the Public Accounts Committee, the Committee wrote to the Department of Education for a response. This is the response that the Department sent to the Public Accounts Committee. We did not see this letter until 17 May.

6 May 2022 – Atheist Ireland meets Department of Education and NCCA

At the end of this meeting, the Department accepted that we had raised legal issues which they would have to consider and we will then recommence our discussions.

17 May 2022 – Atheist Ireland writes to Department of Education and NCCA

We wrote a follow-up letter to the Department, answering their question at the end of our meeting about what we wanted to see happen.

17 May 2022 – PAC write to Atheist Ireland

The Public Accounts Committee wrote to us, including the letters they had received from the Department and the NCCA. We have published these letters above on the dates they were written, but this is the first time we saw them. The PAC said that it does not intend to consider matter further as the Department was arranging to meet with us.

24 May 2022 – Atheist Ireland writes to PAC

Atheist Ireland responded to the Public Accounts Committee. We said that we have since had this meeting, and attached the legal issues that the Department said they would have to consider. Based on this, we asked the Public Accounts Committee to continue its consideration of the issue.

11 June 2022 – Atheist Ireland writes to PAC

Atheist Ireland wrote to the Public Accounts Committee about a response from the Minister for Education to a Dail question about the obligations of schools to children for whom it has been indicated that they do not wish to participate in religious arrangements

4 July 2022 – PAC writes to Atheist Ireland

The Public Accounts Committee wrote to us, noting that there is ongoing engagement between us and the Department. They also said it is not their role to adjudicate on interpretations of the constitution, or to examine the merits of government policies. They suggested we make our enquiry to the Joint Committee on Education.

27 July 2022 – Atheist Ireland writes to PAC

Atheist Ireland responded to the Public Accounts Committee. We said that we are not asking them to adjudicate on any interpretations of the Constitution because the Oireachtas already funds and upholds the determinations of the Constitution made by the Supreme Court. We are asking them to examine the failure of the Department of Education to administer Constitutional rights and legislation, with regard to state funding of schools, in accordance with the distinction made between policy and administration by the Supreme Court in the Burke case.

10 October 2022 – PAC writes to Atheist Ireland

The Public Accounts Committee wrote to us, seeking our consent to forward our correspondence to the Joint Committee on Education, and noting that matters regarding the implementation of legislation are within the remit of that Committee.

18 October 2022 – Atheist Ireland writes to PAC

Atheist Ireland responded to the Public Accounts Committee. We said that like any issue, this issue has aspects which other bodies can also examine. However, it is the PAC’s remit and responsibility to examine those elements of this issue that involve the misuse of public funds. We asked for a response to the substance of our complaint.

1 November 2022 – Atheist Ireland sends Report to all relevant bodies

In October 2020 Atheist Ireland published a report about how 100 sample schools failed to comply with Section 62.7(n) of the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018. This Section obliges schools to publish an Admission Policy which must include details of the school’s arrangements for students who do not want to attend religious instruction. We have now updated that report regarding the same 100 sample schools, and we sent it to all relevant bodies.

22 November 2022 – PAC writes to Atheist Ireland

The Public Accounts Committee wrote to us, saying that it has determined that the matters raised by us are not for it to investigate, that it is not its role to consider whether other choices could or should have been made in relation to the allocation of funds reported on in a given set of accounts, and that policy, legislation, and administration fall within the remit of the Oireachtas Education Committee.

5 December 2022 – Atheist Ireland writes to PAC and C&AG

Atheist Ireland responded to the Public Accounts Committee. We asked them to reconsider, in the public interest, its determination that the matters we have raised are not for it to investigate. We said we are not asking youth Committee to consider whether or what other lawful choices could or should have been made. In this case, there are no other lawful choices that can be made. State aid for schools must be spent in a way that meets the constitutional condition in Article 44.2.4.

We copied that letter to the Comptroller and Auditor General. We said we had included as part of this letter our understanding of the relevant duties of the Comptroller and Auditor General with regard to the regulatory part of the audit of the Department.

5 December 2022 – Atheist Ireland writes to Oireachtas Education Committee

Atheist Ireland wrote to the Oireachtas Education Committee. We asked when they envisaged addressing the issue of the constitutional right to not attend religious instruction, which they told us two years ago that they would. We told them that the Public Accounts Committee had said that the matters we have raised with them come under the remit of the Education Committee.

We summarised our correspondence with the Committee to date, and we asked it to take account of the significance of the Burke case at the Supreme Court for the responsibility to administer the law in a way that does not breach the constitutional conditions in the Constitution.

5 December 2022 – Atheist Ireland writes to Department of Education

Atheist Ireland wrote to the Department of Education, reminding them that we met them on 6 May regarding the misuse of public funds related to this issue. We said it it is now seven months since our meeting, and we asked when would suit the for the follow-up discussion we agreed at that meeting.

Still to come

We will be publishing more of our correspondence on this issue here as it happens.

Atheist Ireland

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