We cannot rely on the Catholic Church to voluntarily relinquish control of the education system.

The government is paying lip-service to the idea of a fully inclusive education system, according Social Democrats Education Spokesperson Gary Gannon.

Deputy Gannon was responding to a report today noting the government’s plan to provide 400 multi-denominational primary schools by 2030 has no roadmap, or interim targets, and has effectively stalled.

“Reform is moving at a snail’s pace. In eight year, the percentage of Catholic schools has fallen by just 2pc. Ireland is becoming an increasingly diverse and secular society, and our education system must reflect that.

“At Census 2016, more than 468,000 designated themselves as atheist, agnostic or non-religious. That’s an increase of 74 per cent on the 2011 census and a seven-fold increase on 1991. Less than half of couples get married in Catholic churches, and these are the people whose children will be entering an education system which no longer reflects the make-up of Irish society.

“We all know of the huge demand for places in Educate Together schools. What more proof does government need to see that families are crying out for choice around education?”

“The United Nations Human Rights Committee has expressed concern at the slow pace of progress in increasing access to secular education. The establishment of non-denominational schools and a move towards teaching children about religion, rather providing religious instruction, would allow us to accommodate children of all faiths and none in our schools.

“The report from Noteworthy comes just a few weeks after the controversy over Flourish, a new programme for relationships and sexuality education in primary schools developed by the Irish Bishops Conference. The Social Democrats criticised Flourish, saying education about such matters should be factual and not informed by religious ethos.

“Teachings on such matters should reflect the attitude of the State, not of a particular religion. We cannot tolerate a situation in which impressionable primary school-aged children are taught that certain kinds of families are lesser than others.”

14 June, 2021

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