Petition started for Irish referendum targeting Catholic schools

Bishop visiting a catholic school in Dublin

In the wake of Ireland’s May 25 referendum legalizing abortion in the country, the Irish Labour Party has started a petition seeking a referendum to end religious schools in the country.

The government funds religious schools in Ireland, and about 96 percent of elementary schools in the country are under the patronage of a religious group, and approximately 90 percent of these schools are run by the Catholic Church.

“It’s time for a national conversation about how we achieve a modern, secular and equality-based education system for the Ireland of today, and what we hope to achieve for tomorrow,” said the Irish Labour Party Education spokesperson, Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin.

Changing the education system would require amending the Irish Constitution, which guarantees the right of parents to send children to the school of their choice, including religious schools.

“Religion should not be the overarching principle that underpins our education system, nor should it be the way by which children are segregated at a young age”, said Ó Ríordáin.  The proposal would effectively nationalize religious schools and ban religious instruction on their premises.

“What they envisage for Irish schools (huge State control) would go further than Britain, further than France even. It would go as far as the US,” David Quinn, the director of the pro-family Iona Institute, said on Twitter.

“What we’re talking about is not to have a single emphasis on a particular religion and faith-based education, or religious instruction – that’s the difference,” Nash said. “It is important young people should have an understanding of religious traditions …The same could be said about introducing philosophy in schools.”

Ó Ríordáin said he spoke with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar about his proposal, and recounted the prime minister said it was “certainly something … I will consider.” Varadkar’s government has already announced plans to prohibit Catholic primary schools – but not schools from minority denominations such as the (Anglican) Church of Ireland – from giving priority to students based upon their religion.

 Ireland’s Catholic leaders have acknowledged growing secularism might change the way schools are run in the country, although they see the Church as still having an important place in education.

The Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, has suggested the Church divest itself of some of its schools, while the Archbishop of Armagh, Eamon Martin, said he wasn’t “married” to the idea of preferential access of Catholics to the Church’s schools.

Meanwhile, the Irish government is holding a referendum in October to remove the offense of blasphemy from the constitution. And on Tuesday, the Irish Minister for Health, Simon Harris, called for a referendum to change the definition of family in the Irish constitution, so that non-parents can be given more rights over children in certain cases.