Politicians call for religious influence to be removed from Irish state-funded schools

Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Gary Gannon and Cian O’Callaghan are among many political figures advocating for the removal of religious influences over education.

Split screen: Gary Gannon (left), Aodhán Ó Ríordáin (centre) and Cian O’Callaghan (right)
Image: Twitter @GaryGannonTD @OCallaghanCian @AodhanORiordain

Irish politicians are saying that religious influence has no place in the education system and that teachings should be informed by best practice in science and healthcare.

Labour Party TD Aodhán Ó Ríordáin wants religious patronage removed from schools in light of church-related scandals such as the mother and baby homes, a stance that has earned the Labour Party a letter of criticism from Bishop Alphonsus Cullinan of Waterford and Lismore.

The letter, addressed to Labour Party leader, Alan Kelly, accused Ó Ríordáin of “almost inciting hatred” for the suggestion, whilst failing to spell the TD’s name correctly.

“If that requires a referendum we should do it,” said Ó Ríordáin, firm in his position, “let’s fight that referendum and win that referendum.”

He went on to say, “Any self-respecting social democrat would advocate for a separation for church and State on education. We had come from an emotional debate on the Magdalene laundries and mother and baby homes before my comments and it’s very clear to me that religious influence over education needs to end.”


Meanwhile, Gary Gannon and Cian O’Callaghan, among others, are calling for the reform of sex education.

More specifically, Social Democrats education spokesman Gannon has launched his Education (Health, Relationships and Sex Education) Bill which will “ensure that every single student and school that receives State funding will receive the same fact-based health, relationship and sex education regardless of their school’s ethos”.

“It is not acceptable that children in primary schools can be taught that relationships can be placed in a hierarchy, depending on sexual orientation,” said the Dublin Central TD. “It is also utterly unacceptable that LGBTQ+ teachers could be expected to teach that their relationships are somehow lesser.”

Cian O’Callaghan, of the same party, recalls that during his school days, a child in his class asked the teacher about relationships and sex education for same-sex couples, “the response received was ‘I will leave that to your imagination’”.

He told the Minister for Education, Norma Foley, that there was “nothing from the response you’ve given so far that actually gives me confidence that other LGBTQ+ students would not potentially be in a similar situation today”.

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