Denominational education in the Republic of Ireland

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Education in the Republic of Ireland is mostly denominational at primary and secondary level. That is to say, most schools are associated with a particular religion or Christian denomination. Denominational schools include most national schools at primary level, which types are publicly funded by the Department of Education. The school's patron or the chair of the board of management will often be a cleric or religious. The denomination influences the ethos, although in subjects other than religion a standard curriculum is prescribed by the Department of Education for all publicly funded schools. Denominational schools can give priority of admission to pupils of the given denomination with the exception of catholic schools but not refuse to admit pupils based on religion.

The continued prominence of denominational education is controversial among advocates of separation of church and state. Since the 1970s Educate Together and other groups have founded multi-denominational schools. In addition, the prevalence of Catholic schools is questioned in light of Ireland's changing demographic profile brought about by secularisation and immigration since the Celtic Tiger. The Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, has expressed a desire to divest the archdiocese of some of its schools to provide more choice for non-Catholic parents.

Church schools[edit]

In Ireland, the vast majority of the country's primary schools are owned or managed (or both) by religious organisations.[1] As of 2021 of the national total of 3,126 standard schools, 2760 (88%) had Catholic patrons, 172 (5.7%) were controlled by the Church of Ireland, 1% were controlled by other religious organisations while 168 (5.4%) were controlled by organisations which were not affiliated with any particular religion.[2] This system of religious control was instituted according to the Stanley Letter of 1831. Amongst the country's secondary schools, voluntary secondary schools, comprehensive schools and community schools, the majority are controlled by non- Catholic organisations.[3][4]

Fintan O'Toole has criticised this aspect of the educational system, as has Seán Flynn, education correspondent of The Irish Times.[5][6][7] Former Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald has also criticised the denominational system.[8] The Humanist Association of Ireland, Atheist Ireland and other groups have likewise objected to the denominational system, believing that it introduces artificial divisions within Irish society. The Irish Primary Principals Network conducted a survey that found that 72% of parents wanted primary schools to be managed by the state with all religions given equal opportunity.[9]

In June 2009 and referring obliquely to the events of Diswellstown the previous year[citation needed] (in which the children of parents who were not Catholic, mostly immigrants to the country, were refused entry to the local primary school, producing a group of largely non-white children who had no school to attend) the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, said that the current denominational system is "not tenable" and that "the current almost monopoly is a historical hangover that doesn't reflect the realities of the times"[10] and has called for the Catholic Church to cede control of many schools. [11] The Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference, however, supports denominational education, as does The Iona Institute, a small organisation based in Dublin which campaigns upon a range of issues of interest to conservative Christians.[12][13][14]

Jewish education[edit]

There is a small National School partnered with a Secondary School Stratford College in Rathgar, which has a Jewish ethos in Dublin (although the schools now accept children from other denominations due to a dwindling Jewish population). The National/elementary school was set up in 1934 by Rabbi Herzog,[15] as the Zion National School in Bloomfield Avenue.[16] The Secondary School was set up by the Chief Rabbi Jakobovitz and the Jewish community in the 1950s,[17] initially with classes in the Dublin Talmud Torah School, but in 1953 they ceased with the opening of Stratford College.[15] In 1980 the National School moved to the Stratford College location in Rathgar.[16] However throughout the years members of the Jewish community attended schools with a Christian ethos[15] such as the Methodist run Wesley College, Dublin, where the future president of Israel Chaim Herzog attended.

Islamic education[edit]

While Muslims do attend Christian ethos schools or multi-denominational schools, in recent years there has been a growth in the number of Muslim National Schools being established, these are funded by the Department of Education.[18] Traditionally Muslim students have attended Christian schools and received Islamic training, separately. There are plans to establish an Islamic secondary school in Dublin.[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ownership of primary schools Archived 9 April 2010 at the Wayback Machine,
  2. ^ Statistics for religious control, retrieved 15 June 2010
  3. ^ Types of post-primary school,
  4. ^ "Preliminary enrolments in Primary and Post-primary schools announced – Minister McHugh".
  5. ^ Lessons in the power of the church, Fintan O'Toole, The Irish Times, 6 June 2009, retrieved 9 June 2010
  6. ^ Why must agnostics be obliged to teach faith?, Fintan O'Toole, The Irish Times, 2 February 2010, retrieved 9 June 2010
  7. ^ Subtle form of apartheid permeates school system, Seán Flynn, The Irish Times, 2008-05-04, retrieved 10 June 2010
  8. ^ New Catholic school policy could produce unintended 'apartheid', Garret FitzGerald, The Irish Times, 2007-09-08, retrieved 15 June 2010
  9. ^ Religion in Schools – What 750 Principals Say, Irish Primary Principals Network, 28 June 2008
  10. ^ Catholic control of schooling not tenable, says archbishop, Irish Times, 2009-06-17, retrieved 15 June 2010
  11. ^ John Walshe (4 August 2010). "Church won't hand over schools without extensive consultation". Irish Independent.
  12. ^ "David Quinn's opening address in support of denominational education" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 21 July 2011. Retrieved 15 June 2010.
  13. ^ "John Murray's defence of denominational education" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 21 July 2011. Retrieved 15 June 2010.
  14. ^ "Father Vincent Twomey's closing remarks in support of denominational education" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 21 July 2011. Retrieved 15 June 2010.
  15. ^ a b c Jewish education in Dublin: organizational development and conflicts by David Taub (Bar-Ilan University, Israel), Irish Educational Studies, Vol. 24, No. 2�/3, September 2005, pp. 145�/157
  16. ^ a b Stratford National School – History
  17. ^ Stratford College History
  18. ^ Challenging Myths Irish Council of Imams, (15 September 2006) Press Release
  19. ^ Islam and Muslims in Ireland