Religious education in Ireland

Religious education in Ireland has been a contentious issue for generations, just as it has been in many other countries, but Ireland is almost unique in Europe in making religion an integral part of our education system.

It wasn’t always so, of course. In fact, all the way back in 1831, when the primary school system was first established in this country, it was conceived as multi-denominational, a radical enough step given that, at that time, it was almost inconceivable that anyone would be an atheist or a member of any other religion.

The expressed idea was to unite in one system children of different creeds, a concept not vastly different from what many of us still hope to achieve a century and a half later. This is Ireland, after all, where things move slowly.

What actually happened was that the two dominant churches exerted such pressure on the government of the time that by the 1850s, barely one in 25 schools was managed by a group consisting of mixed denominations. Not a surprising outcome for a time when the Catholic Church was flexing its political muscles and the Church of Ireland was fighting a rearguard action against the loss of its former influence.

And so it came about that the free primary schools of Ireland came to be owned by the two dominant churches, even though they had been paid for by public money. Naturally, the fee-paying schools of both denominations continued to collect the money of the wealthy and went on to supply the future judges and senior doctors as they had always done, but that’s the nature of society everywhere and can hardly be ascribed to religion.

Oddly, however, the primary school system following Irish independence thumbed its nose at the regulations that supposedly governed its existence.

According to the rules of the Department of Education

[dropshadowbox align=”none” effect=”lifted-both” width=”auto” height=”” background_color=”#ffffff” border_width=”1″ border_color=”#dddddd” ]the system of National Education affords combined secular and separate religious instruction to children of all religions, and no attempt is made to interfere with the religious tenets of any pupils.[/dropshadowbox]

Once Ireland attained its independence in 1921, the clergy were free to redefine the terms of primary education as follows.

[dropshadowbox align=”none” effect=”lifted-both” width=”auto” height=”” background_color=”#ffffff” border_width=”1″ border_color=”#dddddd” ]Of all the parts of the school curriculum Religious Instruction is by far the most important, as its subject matter, God’s honour and service, includes the proper use of all man’s faculties, and affords the most powerful inducements to their proper use.[/dropshadowbox]

This went on to become Rule 68 of the Department of Education . The Taliban had arrived in Ireland and the book-burnings could begin.

It took nearly ninety years before this definition of education was abandoned, but by then the concept was firmly established that the publicly-funded school system was the primary vehicle of indoctrination for a particular church.

Much abuse has been thrown towards the junior partner in the last government, but Minister Jan O’Sullivan deserves respect for abolishing Rule 68.

Now, Patrick Treacy SC seems to be a fine man as far as I can tell. He seems to be a committed individual and a man of principle. Furthermore, he is a Senior Counsel and therefore a man I tremble before when daring to disagree with him.

I met Patrick last year when he took time out of his busy schedule to visit Limerick and oppose the marriage equality referendum in a radio show broadcast from the Strand hotel though I doubt very much if he remembers shaking my hand. If I recall correctly, he might well have worn a vague expression of distaste but perhaps I just imagined that.

Perhaps I was simply projecting, since Patrick was sharing a stage with John Waters.

All I really remember about Patrick as he trudged across the bridge on his way back from the hotel was what a solitary figure he cut. Like a very perfect gentle knight of the crusades, he seemed somewhat melancholy and carried a large bag, but perhaps that was because he had the weight of the world on his shoulders. Who can tell?

Patrick runs a religious retreat based, as far as I understand it, on the precepts of Ignatius of Loyola. It’s called Integritas, which is the Latin for Integrity, just as Veritas is the Latin for Verity and Libertas is the Latin for Liberty.

Latin is a popular language for naming organisations. It lends them a gravitas (oops, of course I meant gravity) that they might not otherwise possess. And I’d wager that Patrick remembers more Latin than I do. I bet he knows his accusative and infinitive from his ablative and dative.

Patrick is a man of considerable religious commitment, to which, of course, he’s absolutely entitled, but he seems to have overlooked the fact that Rule 68 was abolished, and I say this with considerable trepidation, since Patrick is not only a committed religious man but also a Senior Counsel. I’m absolutely open to correction, but to the best of my knowledge, our rules for primary schools no longer say as follows:

[dropshadowbox align=”none” effect=”lifted-both” width=”auto” height=”” background_color=”#ffffff” border_width=”1″ border_color=”#dddddd” ]Of all the parts of the school curriculum Religious Instruction is by far the most important, as its subject matter, God’s honour and service, includes the proper use of all man’s faculties, and affords the most powerful inducements to their proper use.[/dropshadowbox]

When it was put to Patrick that there might be a reasonable solution to the problem of pesky non-religious children in our State-funded schools, he bristled, even though the proposal was simple enough. Why not have the religion classes at the end of the day so that non-religious children could simply go home? One might add, why not have them at the start of the day so that children of non-religious families could come in late?

Why not put religion in a box at the end of the school day? Isn’t that a reasonable suggestion?

Not to Patrick.

Patrick’s view was that the school’s ethos should infuse the entire day, and I hope I understand him correctly in that. But he was magnanimous enough to say that non-religious children are entitled to education in our State-funded schools, and they are entitled to drop out of religion classes.

I was fascinated.

How exactly would religion infuse the rest of the day without infusing our non-religious children?

And in what sense would the religious day manifest itself outside of religion classes?

What conception, I asked myself, did Patrick have of Catholic mathematics classes?  Does he have a religious view of the unifying theory of calculus? Would it be different from the Hindu understanding of the unifying theory of calculus? Is there a Christian Laplace transform? Can we integrate atheists from here to infinity?

What did he think a Catholic geography class might look like? Would the continents be in the shape of a cross?

Did he think Catholic chemistry might be much different to Protestant chemistry or Muslim chemistry? Would atheist chemistry be something else again? What is the process that transforms a biscuit into Jesus?

Does Patrick believe Catholic physics is different to atheist physics? Is this how a man walks on water?

I didn’t know the answers. But then someone pointed out to me that the text books used in primary schools are infused with religious assumptions, even though the children using them might be from homes that do not subscribe to such notions, so perhaps this is what Patrick had in mind when he argued for general access to schools. You’re free to bring your children to our publicly-funded schools, but they will learn from our privately-dictated textbooks.

Isn’t that the quintessential Irish solution to an Irish problem?





OECD says one in five Irish university students are functionally illiterate

oecd skills ireland

I would have went to the meeting only I was sick, the young teacher explained to me  some years ago, apologising for missing the  annual excruciating encounter in which I found myself patronised by a person twenty years younger and with half my life experience.

You would have went? I thought, but I didn’t say anything. You’re a teacher. Don’t you mean you would have gone? Do you not know what the past participle is?

But of course, I knew it was futile to even think such things, let alone express them. I knew that the young teacher was part of a generation that had  never been taught grammar in school, not to mention punctuation or spelling. What’s more, I suspected that the young teacher came from a home that did not value such things, but depressingly, I also knew that this ignorant young person was nominally in charge of my small child’s education.

I know you would have gone if you could, I reassured her.

I would, she agreed. I would have went.

No meeting of minds there. Let’s move on.

The OECD has reported that Irish university students are among the most illiterate in the world and furthermore that their arithmetic is atrocious, but that surely comes as no surprise. Ask any third-level lecturer what sort of people are coming into their first-year courses and they’ll all tell you the same thing.

Engineering and science lecturers are having to teach their first-years basic Leaving Cert mathematics.

Humanities lecturers, or at least the ones who care, are trying to teach undergraduates the principles of English that they themselves understood in primary school. They have to start these people right at the beginning and teach them the sort of basic skills that one would expect an  average ten-year-old to know.

Of course, one would be wrong to expect that, since the average ten-year-old no longer knows the sort of things they used to.  The average ten-year-old today is being taught by somebody who was the average ten-year-old ten years previously, long after our education system had abandoned any commitment to grammar, punctuation or spelling. Long after our teachers were expected to understand addition and multiplication, never mind mathematics.

What’s more, anyone who tries to oppose the disastrous collapse in literacy and numeracy is dismissed as a Grammar Nazi by people who wouldn’t know what grammar is if you smashed them over the head with a concrete-filled completed pluperfect. And so finally we realise that an adherence to standards of reading, of grammar and of numeracy isn’t a form of pedantry, but a measure of how well we’re doing in the world.

The Finns understand this and so do the Japanese. The Dutch know it and the Koreans know it as well they might since they topped the table. These people teach their children well, and they do it at home as well as doing it in school, just as we used to do here in Ireland, or at least, just as some people used to do.

It’s true that some families never cared a jot for their children’s education in this country. It’s true that some parents never bothered to encourage reading among their children, probably because they never cared for reading themselves, but it’s also true that many  parents, of every social class, considered literacy to be vitally important and brought their children twice a week to the free public library to borrow and return books.

Does that happen any more?

Of course it does, in families that care, but for the rest I don’t know. According to the OECD  report, one in five Irish university students are just about able to understand the instructions on a bottle of pills. Read that again. University students, not five-year-olds.  There was a time when a person with such poor reading skills would not be accepted for a job as a street sweeper and yet now, somehow, they manage to get into university, even if they don’t last very long.

We need to draw lessons from this.

We need to recognise that we have moved too far from our former commitment to excellence. We need to embrace  the idea that excellence in language is a good thing. We need to rejoice in the notion that numeracy is a liberating concept.

We need to make our children feel good about being well-read.

We need to walk away from the know-nothing tyranny that has dragged us down to this level and we need to show  a bit of pride in ourselves. Otherwise, we’ll continue to bump along the bottom, with only the UK being more ignorant.

Is that where we want to be?


Education Religion

Rule 68 finally abolished after 50 years

Poor old David Quinn is having a meltdown. Fresh from his humiliating defeat in the Marriage Equality referendum in which the people of Ireland rejected him and all that he stands for, he now faces the removal of the absurd Rule 68, and he sees that as an attack on his cherished “faith schools”.

Dave, of course, being no stranger to bending reality, fails to mention that Rule 68, along with all its fellow rules, was only introduced in 1964, and that his clerical school managers got on fine in the years leading up to that. Indeed, those same school managers managed to abuse so many children we ended up with statutory investigations to find out what they were getting up to.

Let’s see exactly what Rule 68 says.

Of all parts of a school curriculum Religious Instruction is by far the most important, as its subject matter, God’s honour and service, includes the proper use of all man’s faculties, and affords the most powerful inducements to their proper use. Religious Instruction is, therefore, a fundamental part of the school course, and a religious spirit should inform and vivify the whole work of the school.

No it’s not. Religious instruction is not by far the most important part of a school curriculum. Only an idiot would suggest such a thing, but isn’t vivify a great word? Would anyone except a bishop use a word like vivify? I don’t believe I’ve ever heard anyone using this word but of course, that’s probably because I haven’t been mixing with lads from Maynooth.

Vivify. As someone who loves language, I must admit I would never use such an inflated, self-important word, but then again, I’m not a bishop.

Doesn’t Rule 68 have McQuaid’s creepy fingerprints all over it? And doesn’t it betray the craven attitude of the civil servants who allowed McQuaid and his fellow priests to dictate to this independent republic what its educational policy should be?

Is there a huge difference between the mindset that vivifies modern Muslim madrassas and that which created our current primary school system?

Not being a man with a great grasp of logic, Dave Quinn has been spinning all day about the loss of protection for his personal faith delusion, even though our national schools were originally set up as a non-denominational system. Dave has been suggesting, with no logic at all, that the removal of Rule 68 will somehow remove his power to inflict religion on children. Dave, somehow, appears to be unaware that religious indoctrination carried on just fine prior to 1964 when Rule 68 was first written.

It’s over.

The days are gone when John Charles McQuaid told the government what to write into law and poor Dave, who in many ways is a likeable sort of fellow, needs to realise that.

Over the years Dave has demonstrated a semi-detached relationship with rational thought, thereby turning his ludicrous political lobby group into the Guantanamo of logic. Iona: where common sense goes to be tortured.

I don’t care what fetish people cling to. If feet are your thing, that’s fine. If you like bicycles, so be it. If you want to hang on a cross, that’s ok too, but really, the cross Dave likes to hang on defeats all logic. Let Dave fantasise all he likes about being a victim while he hangs there on his cross, but meanwhile Irish parents need to get their children educated in real subjects like science and critical thinking instead of Dave’s magic.

Here’s one thing you will never hear David Quinn talking about: the Catholic bishops’ determined efforts to obstruct the creation of multi-denominational schools in Ireland. And there’s a good reason why Dave will never talk about that nasty little period in our history. It doesn’t fit in with his false narrative of tolerance.

If Dave wants to indoctrinate our children in his magic, he’s free to do it on a Sunday when the taxpayer isn’t footing the bill. We’ll even pay for the classrooms. We’re good like that.


Rule 68. Revising Ancient Guidelines for Primary Schools

Education Religion

Religious education controversy – Castletroy College Limerick

In common with many Irish people, I was astonished to hear today on the news that the Catholic bishops control State-funded secondary schools.

Quite a controversy has sprung up as a result of a parent’s request to have his daughter excused from attending religion classes in a publicly-funded secondary school, Castletroy College in Limerick. Paul Drury approached the principal of the school, Padraig Flanagan, assuming that it would be a formality to make this arrangement but he was refused flatly. Out of the question. Drury’s child was going to be taught religion whether he, his partner or their child liked it.

That was despite the fact that Drury’s right to withdraw his child from religious instruction is guaranteed not only in law but in  the constitution. Such piffling details, apparently, carry little weight with Castletroy College. It’s hard to escape the feeling that Flanagan’s predecessor, Martin Wallace, might have handled the matter more deftly.

Contrary to Flanagan’s assurances that his school’s religious education involves learning about all world beliefs, the reality is that the school has, over the years, been routinely visited by an assortment of Catholic priests though not, to the best of my knowledge, any Imams or rabbis. It is possible that Church of Ireland or Presbyterian clergymen have been invited to give classes, though I’m fairly confident no humanists or atheists have ever been permitted to explain their point of view to the students.

You’d imagine, would you not, that a secondary school funded entirely by public money, from the first shovel of concrete to the last penny of staff salary, would be free of religious control? After all, the bishops have for years defended their domination of primary schools by claiming that they provided land for the school (though not the teachers). In the absence of any contribution, real or imagined, you might think that the bishops wouldn’t have the nerve to seek control anyway but if you thought that, you underestimated the bishops’ lust for power and the spineless supine nature of the Irish State.

According to RTE’s education correspondent, when the VEC system was being set up an agreement was reached that bishops would become  joint trustees of the schools, whatever that means. You might have thought that an agreement involves some sort of mutual transaction but in this case it seems to have been much simpler. The State agreed to build and fund the schools while the bishops agreed to exert control without contributing anything.

What could be fairer?  Not even slightly unconstitutional.

The Castletroy College board of management meets tonight to decide on Paul Drury’s request and, while they deliberate, they might reflect on the fact that  Jan O’Sullivan, the Minister for Education has confirmed that parents have the right to remove their children from religious education in schools.

Jan O Sullivan, for her own part, might reflect on the fact that she controls the department that paid for this school’s construction and funds every penny of staff costs, unlike the local Catholic bishop, who funds nothing.

Jan might consider laying down the law to unelected,, unaccountable clerics by pointing out that they have no business telling any parent what their children should study.

And then Jan should dig out that original one-sided agreement between the VECs and the Catholic bishops, hold it in the air and strike a match under it.



In its infinite wisdom, the board of management of Castletroy College has pronounced its judgement.

I promise you I didn’t make this up.   This is not satire.


The student will not be required to study religion, but she will have to remain in the classroom while the subject is being taught.


It smells of some priest insisting on the final say.  How long can it be before a parent member of the board decides it’s time to stop being intimidated?

Do students who opt out of chemistry classes have to stay in the laboratory?

Do students who don’t paint have to sit at an easel?

Do non-singers have to stand in the choir?

It’s like excusing you from listening to Joe Duffy but keeping Liveline on the radio. Cruel and unusual.

Oddly, all the school needs to do in order to resolve this problem is to schedule religion as an optional subject as required by law. That way, students could attend other classes in the normal manner, but until that happens, the suspicion will linger that a bishop’s wishes are greater than the rule of law in this little republic.



Elsewhere: RTE correspondent Emma O Kelly blog.


Education Religion

Rule 68. Revising Ancient Guidelines for Primary Schools

The news today is full of education minister, Jan O’Sullivan’s decision to revise the rules for national schools, especially Rule 68, issued in 1964 under the minister of the day, Dr Patrick Hillery.

Rules for National Schools

Reading them now, they come across as utterly bizarre, a remnant from an Ireland that no longer exists, some strange, authoritarian, religious-dominated, backward-looking, sexist, introverted anomaly of a country, much like a Catholic version of the Islamic State after the fighting had settled down.  And yet there are elements of the rules that reveal a quiet revolution taking place, a gentle rolling back of clerical power beneath all the religious huffing and puffing that the document is prone to.

Radio and television have their demands.  They need to come up with the soundbite, unfortunately, just as the printed media do in their own way, which is why it’s understandable that they latched on to the absurd Rule 68.

Let me quote Rule 68 for you.

Of all parts of a school curriculum Religious Instruction is by far the most important, as its subject matter, God’s honour and service, includes the proper use of all man’s faculties, and affords the most powerful inducements to their proper use. Religious Instruction is, therefore, a fundamental part of the school course, and a religious spirit should inform and vivify the whole work of the school.

Of course, the technical term for this sort of thing is Bollocks and what a shame that it should still survive a full 50 years after it was first pushed out by the Department of Education on behalf of the minister, Paddy Hillery.  In the modern world it stands up to no scrutiny whatever and can instantly be demolished by  reductio ad absurdum.

Since a child of non-believers does not receive a religious instruction, that child has been deprived of the most important part of the school curriculum and also deprived of a fundamental part of the school course.  It therefore follows that the parents of that child have been negligent.

Now, what ideologue would like to knock on anyone’s  door and accuse them of being  a negligent parent for withdrawing their children from religion classes?

Context is everything, and 1964 was a time when governments still struggled under the gimlet eye of the appalling John Charles McQuaid and his episcopal fellow-abusers, and therefore the inclusion of Rule 68 doesn’t surprise me.  What does surprise me is that successive governments, throughout the 60s, the 70s, the 80s, the 90s and the zeroes allowed this miserable piece of clerical arse-licking to remain in existence.

Despite all that, however, Rule 69 brings a few surprises.  True, it does acknowledge that men are superior to women, as do many other rules, sadly.

69 (1) The religious denomination of each pupil must be entered in the school register and roll-book.  This information should be ascertained from the parent (the father if possible) or the guardian of the pupil where necessary.

Now, observe that wording.  Ignore the institutionalised sexism of the Irish state in 1964 and note that the pupil’s religious denomination should be recorded.  Here you have a clear demonstration that there are in fact no religiously-controlled National schools in Ireland, despite what the church authorities and some civil servants would have you believe.  The Irish primary school system was set up in 1831 (by the English, God forbid!)  to be entirely multi-denominational and it’s only by an ad-hoc sleight of hand that they came to be otherwise, controlled by parish priest or rector as the case may be.

But let us go on.  What else does Rule 69 say?

2 (a) No pupil shall receive, or be present at, any religious instruction of which his parents or guardian disapprove.

That’s pretty radical, wouldn’t you agree?  Not only radical, but ignored wholesale for the last 50 years by rabidly religious school principals walking all over the rules with hobnailed boots.

Your kids have a right to a secular education if you desire it.  It’s that simple, and yet, this right has been resisted by every priest, bishop and screechy self-appointed parent-mullah since the foundation of the State.

Paddy Hillery, ironically, was actually a reforming education minister who ended the class barriers in education, who gave every student access to State exams, who set up comprehensive schools and regional technical colleges, and who laid the basis for Donough O’Malley’s impetuous announcement of free secondary education for all.  If politics is the art of the possible, perhaps he calculated that these things were only possible provided he paid lip service to the religious extremists of his time.

But that time is gone and now it’s time to say goodbye to such nonsense.

Download (PDF, 1.29MB)




For the Fainthearted










Home-Schooling Mother Jailed for Refusing to Pay Fine

Was Monica O’Connor arrested and jailed for home-schooling her kids?

No, but that’s what you’d imagine if you heard the nonsense all day long on every available news programme.

Monica O’Connor was arrested — and held briefly before being released — because she refused to pay a fine.  It’s that simple.

Her husband, Eddie O’Neil, is expecting to suffer the same savage treatment between now and the end of the year.  He’ll also be arrested, brought to prison, served a hot meal and released because he too refused to pay a fine imposed by a court of law.

Now, you might be wondering why the court imposed these fines in the first place, and if you listened to Monica, you might have got the impression that it was because they didn’t send their children to school, but if that’s the impression you got, I’m afraid you’re wrong.

This couple were fined for refusing to be assessed as suitable people to home-school their children.  Monica thinks assessment is an outrageous intrusion into their personal liberty, thereby revealing an astonishing sense of entitlement and superiority all in one.

Why do I say this?

Simple.  The truancy laws exist to protect children whose parents don’t care about their education and don’t bother sending them to school.  It’s not illegal to teach your children at home, but you have to prove you’re capable of it, because otherwise every bum, waster, junkie and alcoholic would claim to be home-schooling their children just to avoid getting out of bed.

This law is not there to hurt capable and committed educators like Monica and Eddie.  It’s to protect children who don’t have such a home but Monica and Eddie don’t see it that way.

They don’t see why they should submit themselves to scrutiny by an assessor.

This law, it seems, is only for the small  people, not for Monica and Eddie, who are entitled to their own special law, just for them.

Good luck with that.




Education Minister Angers Primary Teachers By Demanding High Standards

Ruairí Quinn provoked a storm of booing and hissing at the INTO conference when he suggested that Higher Level Mathematics in the Leaving Certificate should be one of the minimum entry requirements for people wishing to become primary teachers.

Imagine that. Insisting that professional educators possess a basic knowledge of one of the most vital conceptual tools mankind has ever developed.

When Quinn attempted to expand his point that primary teaching has become feminised, the shouting drowned him out and his argument was lost: far too high a proportion of girls don’t bother to proceed to higher level mathematics in the Leaving Certificate. Indeed, many girls’ schools don’t offer higher mathematics at all, for reasons that are not entirely clear, apart from the suspicion that embedded gender stereotyping is alive and well.

Was Quinn wrong about primary teaching being too feminised? The answer was made fairly clear in the INTO general secretary’s response, addressing the floor: Sisters – hell hath no fury.

In truth, 85% of primary teachers in Ireland are women and therefore Quinn is simply pointing out a strategic educational imperative. If girls are deliberately not taking higher maths, and if they go on to form the majority of primary teachers, then clearly this vital area is not receiving the emphasis it badly needs. You wouldn’t need to be a highly-trained primary teacher to work that out.

Of course, let us not forget what sort of cohort Quinn was addressing. After all, these people, to a woman, are products of our dysfunctional, church-dominated teacher-training colleges. These are people who all submitted to a regime in which religion receives ten times as many contact hours as science does.

Unfortunately, due to the way our education system has operated over the generations, we have failed to understand the importance of mathematics in helping the young mind to develop. It’s not good enough to expect a pass at Ordinary level mathematics for those going on to form the minds of our children at their most fertile. An averagely-intelligent monkey could pass ordinary level maths, which is little more than advanced arithmetic.

Commenters at the lower end of the cognitive scale, such as Joe Duffy, for instance, have not the slightest idea what maths is, and yet, unfortunately, such loud voices are free to belittle and demean what Quinn was trying to get across. Meanwhile, at the upper end, if we could call it that, educated people are saying very sad things about being no good at mathematics.

Thus, in a rare moment of confluence, Duffy and the educated find themselves in the same camp: people who have been failed by the school system of this country. Not that we’re unique in this regard — Britain suffers from precisely the same sort of know-nothing Duffy ignorance and the same general lack of confidence when it comes to matters mathematical.

What’s the downside? On a macro level, mathematics is an absolutely fundamental prerequisite for doing just about everything that a modern society needs to do, and I won’t even mention the word economy. Mathematics is the rational way we describe and predict all physical phenomena. You wouldn’t be reading this site right now without a theoretical mathematical underpinning to make it possible. We’d have no computers. We wouldn’t have life-saving drugs. We’d have no computers, cars or Angry Birds. You’d have no phone. We wouldn’t be able to hold elections. There would be no MRI scans.

I won’t go on.

On a much more intimate level, because mathematics is nothing more than symbolic logic, it helps the young mind to develop clear and critical thinking, two things that have been desperately lacking in our society, as a century of domination by charlatans, clerical and civil, demonstrates.

Let’s move away from childish, Duffy-like understandings of what mathematics really is. Let’s abandon Joe to his hard arithmetic, for he truly is a lost cause, and let’s listen to Ruairí Quinn’s real point. After all, he isn’t asking the Sisterhood to split the atom. He isn’t expecting them to get an A in the subject. All he’s asking is that they pass a course that requires some analytical ability and some imagination instead of muddling through a course that amounts to little more than disguised arithmetic.

Since primary teachers are required to teach the full gamut of subjects, I think it’s the least we can expect. After all, our children need more than singing, reading and writing and arithmetic. They also need the foundations of rational thought if this country is ever to progress beyond the series of stop-start disasters that have been its fate until now, but unfortunately, by the time the teachers become qualified to get their hands on our kids, they have already been subjected to a religious system that abhors independent thinking.

Maybe this is why they reacted with such robotic uniformity to a suggestion that in any other country would be regarded as self-evident. These Sisters never booed a bishop.


Previously: Critical Thinking

Education Religion

Louise O’Keeffe Case Could Redefine State’s Role in Primary Schools

Most people were rightly appalled by the way the State’s legal team treated Louise O’Keeffe who was abused by a primary school principal at the age of 8.  They placed every possible obstacle and threat in her way as she sought to prove that the State was negligent in failing to prevent the sexual abuse inflicted on her at school.  They fought the case all the way to the Supreme court, and when they won there, they immediately issued intimidating letters to over 130 other litigants, threatening them with dire financial consequences unless they dropped their cases.

However, they didn’t reckon on the courage and determination of Louise O’Keeffe. The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg agreed with her that since the Irish State pays the wages and pensions of teachers, sets the curriculum and inspects the schools, it is responsible for protecting the children from abuse.

This is all well and good, but money doesn’t explain the intensity of the State’s resistance to the case.  After all, this is the same State that subvented the religious orders to the tune of €1.4 billion in the Residential Institutions Redress Boards.  It has to be something else, and once you think about it, the answer is obvious.  This judgement by the ECHR destroys the fiction that the primary schools are owned and operated by the religious denominations and instead it places the government firmly in control – not something the government welcomes.  This of course, is blindingly obvious, since the majority of priests and bishops have no role or skill in education and have no place on the boards of management of our schools.

This ECHR decision has no downside.  It obliges the State to protect children from predatory adults in schools, but it also explicitly confirms that the State is the responsible entity, reinforcing, ironically, the non-denominational nature of our primary schools, as first conceived in the 1820s.  (Interestingly, and contrary to what most people believe, there is no such thing in Irish law as a Catholic primary school or a Church of Ireland school for that matter).

Therefore, the ECHR decision could potentially force the State to take direct control of all publicly-funded primary schools and eject the bishops from their antiquated status of patron.  This is why the government’s lawyers put up such a savage battle to silence and crush Louise O’Keeffe.  It’s also why we’re unlikely to hear a huge cheer from the religious pressure groups who shout so much about protecting the rights of children.


Getting Education in Perspective. Drawing Penises on Schoolbooks.

A  few years back, during a meeting, I received an urgent phone call from my son’s year head, Mrs Moriarty.

What? Is he all right? I wanted to know.  Is he hurt?

No.  He’s fine, but I need to speak with you.

I’m sorry, I explained.  I’m in the middle of something.  Can I call you back later?

I’m afraid this can’t wait.

Christ, I thought.  What did he do?  Bullet is a mild-mannered individual with a laid-back attitude to life, but still.  He could be a dark horse.  Maybe he was caught canoodling with the school secretary in the broom cupboard.  Maybe he was on the roof waving a whiskey bottle and proclaiming the new Soviet.  For all I knew, he was holding the principal hostage with a case of dynamite and even now, as we spoke, armed police were surrounding the school.

With a mimed apology to my colleagues, I stepped outside the room.

Tell me, I hissed.  What has happened to my son?

The teacher’s voice quivered.  We found a penis.

A what?  A penis?

Yes.  A penis.

Jesus, it’s worse than I thought.  What sort of monster did I raise?

Where?  Where did you find the penis.   Was it his locker?

No.  It was on his journal.

He left a severed penis in plain view on his journal?  Sweet suffering Jesus, this monster has been among us all these years and we never knew.  

Who was the victim?


Who did he kill?

I don’t understand.

You said you found a penis on his journal.

We found a drawing of a penis on his journal.

Oh.  And you’re calling me at work for this?


It’s very serious.  The penis was drawn over the school’s mission statement. It’s very upsetting.

Let me get this straight, I check.  Are you telling me that an adolescent boy has a picture of a penis drawn on his journal?  I can hardly believe it.

Yes, her voice trembled.  All over the mission statement.

Very good, I assure the traumatised woman.  I’ll deal with this.  Thank you for alerting me to it.  Good afternoon.

Later, I confront the pervert.

Did you draw a mickey on your workbook?

No.  Vinny did.

Where is it?

They took it away.

What?  You mean we haven’t got it to show your children?

No, he says.  It’s shit.

It is, I agree.  Is nothing sacred?






Education government Religion

School Head Who Rejected Pregnant Girl Turns Out to Be A Tax Dodger

Do you remember this character?

Pádraig O’Shea, the owner and former principal teacher at St Joseph’s College, Borrisoleigh, refused a place in his school to a pregnant 16-year-old, earlier this year.  You might recall the dismissive letters he wrote to the girl’s mother and to the Ombudsman, pointing out that his school has what he calls an uncompromising ethos.  

What a shame that his ethos isn’t equally uncompromising when it comes to paying tax in this country, especially when you remember that tax money is what funds the salaries of his staff.

Here’s an extract from the Revenue’s latest list of defaulters, and you’ll notice that Mr O’Shea was hit with a bill for €346,059 in unpaid tax.

In addition, he was charged €100,016 in interest and €259,544 in penalties, coming to a grand total of €705,619.

What a shame.