News & Media

Citizens Assembly on role of Church in Education must be a priority

2 May 2021

Statement by Aodhán Ó Ríordáin TD
Spokesperson on Education, Enterprise and Trade
  • Many issues must be examined for the Future of Education.
  • Dominant influence of Catholic Church and Flourish Sex Education programme must be addressed.
  • Taoiseach didn’t give any time commitment for Programme for Government commitment this week.

Labour Party Education spokesperson, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, has called for the Government to commit as a priority to convening a Citizens’ Assembly on the Future of Education to examine a range of issues, including the relationship between Church and State after the publication of the new Catholic Church RSE programme, and the failure of the Taoiseach to give any time commitment as to when this Assembly would happen.

Deputy Ó Ríordáin said:

“There is a commitment in the Programme for Government for a Citizens Assembly on the Future of Education. While there is a large number of issues that such an assembly would address, the dominant role of the Catholic Church as a school patron was highlighted once again this week with the publication of their new sex education programme ‘Flourish’.

"For a number of years, I have called for a consideration of the role of the Church in Education through the well established model of a Citizens Assembly, and developments this week have shown why it must be a priority.

“Questioned about it in the Dáil during the week, the Taoiseach was unable to provide any indication of a time period for when the Citizens Assembly on Education might happen.

“The sex education programme of the Catholic Church should not be the dominant RSE programme taught in our state funded primary education system. Addressing this though requires a root and branch look at our education system.

“For a large number of people it is simply no longer acceptable for religion to influence what should be a fact based RSE programme.

“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. 

“Ireland is different now compared to when our constitution was written, when the role of religion in our education system was enshrined through Articles 42 and 44. 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.

“Instead of a public education system, we have a State funded education system which farms out responsibility for the running of schools to patron bodies.

“Patrons are empowered by various articles in the constitution which have been interpreted as affirming the right of parents to have their children educated through the ethos of their choice.

“What I am asking for is a commitment from the Government to reconvene a Citizens' Assembly that would examine the ownership and control of our education system, and the influence of Articles 42 and 44 of Bunreacht na hÉireann. We’ve seen the successful way this has worked for the 8th Amendment, Climate Change and Gender Equality.

“The legislative and policy changes introduced to date on how we hire teachers, allow schools enrol pupils, and how patronage is awarded and divested, are limited by our basic law. To fundamentally change our education system, the Constitution must change, and that should start with a meaningful and considered analysis, discussion and debate through a Citizens' Assembly.

“From speaking to many parents and indeed students on this issue, it is clear that there is no simple answer to this complex issue. It is time for the Government to commit to referring this issue to the Citizens’ Assembly so it can be dealt with by experts and by ordinary citizens of our State.”