Religious control of schools promotes inequality, prejudice, division – and worse. It is also against the founding spirit of the Republic. It must be challenged now.
Fr. Paul Connell is the President of the Joint Managerial Body and the Association of Management of Catholic Schools in Ireland.
I will make no judgement as to whether he is an intelligent man – or not. But reading details of the speech he made in Killarney recently, it is hard to credit its extraordinary blindness to what the word ‘equality’ actually means.
Let us recall the words of the Proclamation of 1916.
“The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens,” the revolutionary document stated, “and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all the children of the nation equally, and oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien government, which have divided a minority in the past.”
The key principle in this section of the document, which set out to define our conception of what a republic means, is that it guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities (including educational opportunities) to all its citizen. All religions – and none – must be treated equally by the State.
That didn’t happen when the 26 counties achieved independence, because the Roman Catholic Church exerted its power, to insidiously take control of critical aspects of the machinery of the new State, including education, and to establish a “special position” (since removed by Referendum) in the 1937 Constitution of Ireland. But all of that was a grotesque betrayal of the ideals set out in the Proclamation itself.
Religious and civil liberty in its purest and most far-reaching sense is a core ideal of the republic. That is to say, we are all entitled to believe in whatever we like, and those beliefs will – or should – be accorded equal respect, as long as they do not involve threatening or intimidating others or engaging in acts of violence, discrimination or hatred of one kind or another.
I am an atheist. I happen to believe that Roman Catholics, members of the Church of Ireland, Presbyterians, Methodists, Muslims, Orthodox Christians, Hindus, Jews, Moonies, Seventh Day Adventists, Scientologists and Jehovah’s Witnesses – among others – are all more or less equally wrong. But I will defend, without prejudice, the right of any individual member of any of these churches or faiths – and similarly the right of atheists and agnostics – to believe what they do, and to pursue those beliefs without making themselves the target of discrimination, whether by the State or any branch of its machinery.
That is what being an equal citizen means.
Of course, there is an irony here. In all of these hugely diverse religions – or, rather, cults, for in essence they are all cults in different stages of their evolution – there is a fundamental presumption of the innate superiority of initiates and believers, over everyone else. Where religion is concerned, the starting point is that everyone isn’t equal until they join up – and to suggest otherwise is, honestly, a badly misguided exercise in self-delusion. What is the point of being a Catholic or a Moonie – rather than, say, a Methodist or a Mormon – except the conviction: (a) that the others have it wrong; and (b) that being part of the religion of your choice is more likely to lead you to the eternal reward of an afterlife spent in paradise?
That is the essential promise of pretty much all sects, cults and religions: join here and you are in closer touch with God – and more likely to find a welcoming committee in attendance when you arrive at the pearly gates and knock. People in the west generally are inclined to laugh ruefully at the news that Islamist suicide bombers go about their grisly business in the belief that a host of virgins will be waiting, to attend to their sexual needs, once they trigger the explosion and kill themselves (along with their intended targets). Isn’t that mad, eh?
It is, I have to agree, a far-fetched and rather juvenile proposition. But how much more far-fetched is it than the story that the Son of God was born of a virgin birth; that he was crucified, died and then came back to life again after three days; and that he ascended into heaven, sailing upwards and ever upwards into the ether, defying gravity and the inevitable incineration that awaited him up there?
Stop and reflect for a minute, and none of these stories make any sense. At this stage, we know that homo sapiens has been traversing the planet for 100,000 years or so, mostly without the help of Ryanair. So why the big delay before the saviour came down to earth? Fine, the words that are attributed to Jesus have a certain force (though I can never understand how or why the son of an all-powerful God, of which he himself was, or is, a constituent part, didn’t have the foresight to have someone making notes on the spot, so that what he had to say would have been made immediately and accurately available for circulation, rather than being published from hearsay about 100 years later. But anyhow).
Some of his ideas were sound, radical even for the place and time. But Muslims feel precisely the same thing about Mohammed. And, in fairness, scientologists are equally impressed by L. Ron Hubbard, as is their entitlement. My view? As John Lennon put it: “Whatever gets you through the night/ Is alright/ Is alright.” Each to their own...
So, in relation to education, how might the State deal with the challenge of treating people of any religion and none completely equally? It is obvious: the Educate Together model promotes equality for all, irrespective of religious or ethnic background. The only real obstacle to this model is the collective vested interests of religious denominations, and most particularly of the Catholic Church.
To ensure that there is genuine equality, the State should offer no precedence whatsoever to any particular religion. Nor indeed to Atheism. Rather, the education provided, and funded, by the State should be free of any assumptions or prejudices about the beliefs of individuals or their families. If religion is to be included on the curriculum, then it can be framed in the context of the history of comparative religions: this is what these various religions claim; this is the sequence in which they were founded; now it is up to you to decide which, if any, of these claims makes sense.
Separately, if people want to set up schools that are based around particular religions, they should be free to do so. But they should not be in receipt of funding from the State for that purpose. The State’s position should be: if you are for religious segregation, then you can pay for it yourself, whether you are Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Jew, Atheist or whatever. To be clear about it, an atheist college should have to pay its own way.
I accept that it would be wrong to deny parents the right to have their children attend the so-called ‘faith’ schools of their choice. I am libertarian by instinct. The State shouldn’t mess with people’s freedom of thought or expression any more than is absolutely necessary. If there are enough like-minded spirits, who also want to participate in faith schools, then good for you and your rreligious mates. But no one has a right to expect the State to fund that prejudice.
Which brings us back to the position of religions, and Roman Catholicism in particular, in Irish education. Currently, the vast majority of primary schools are controlled by the Catholic church. As a result, (a) Irish citizens who are not Catholics or who do not subscribe to any religion are being actively discriminated against all over the country, every day of the school year; and (b) because people are increasingly being asked to show their baptismal certificate before being admitted to Catholic schools, parents are being forced to have their children baptised, against their better instincts, if they want them to go to the nearest school or the one that suits best geographically.
Which brings us back to Fr. Paul Connell. He has no problem whatsoever with this kind of institutionalised discrimination. On the contrary, he insists that discrimination in favour of Catholic schools is better. In what way? “The alternative,” he said in his speech, “is a vacuum that can express itself in nihilism and the growing phenomenon in our schools of self-harm.”
Now, as I said at the outset, I really do not know if Fr. Paul Connell is an intelligent man. But he certainly seems to have an extremely short memory. Over the past two decades, countless examples have been revealed of the appalling harm inflicted directly on school pupils in Ireland by members of the Roman Catholic Clergy and by members of the Christian Brothers, among other religious orders. There was appalling physical violence. And there was covert and often sustained sexual abuse. All of which was systematically covered up by the hierarchy of the Church here – that is, by the predecessors of Fr. Paul Connell, and others involved at the highest level of the Irish church.
Fr. Connell wants to talk about self-harm. How many children who were victims of this appalling abuse committed suicide? How many wrestled all their lives with depression, anxiety and self-loathing? How many engaged in violent, fractious relationships as a result of the trauma they suffered and the pain they had to deal with? How many ended up in jail? Or lived alone and abandoned, victims of the appalling arrogance and dishonesty of a morally bankrupt Catholic leadership in Ireland?
There is no reason whatsoever to believe, on the basis of the evidence, that a Catholic education gives people a better moral grounding than the education provided in Educate Together schools. In fact in one vital respect, the sectarian education which has been the norm here – and still is in Northern Ireland too – is clearly morally defective.
It teaches children that those of a different faith are less worthy of eternal life than those of the religious ethos that is dominant in the school.
Sectarian schools – for that is what religious-run schools are – promote division. They promote suspicion. They promote inequality. And in extreme cases they promote hostility and hatred. Their ‘ethos’ may even actively promote brutal physical violence against teenagers from Afghanistan, who have arrived in Ireland as refugees.
There is a simple question – or set of questions – for Fr. Paul Connell. Are Catholics better than Muslims? Are they better than Protestants? Are they better than Jews? Are they more right? Are they more likely to go to heaven?
If not, then what is the problem with all going to school together as equals, and letting parents teach their kids about their own religious beliefs – or send them to ‘faith’ classes if that is what they elect to do?
In the end, it is all about vested interests. It is all about power. It is about the old Jesuit line: “Give me the child for his first seven years and I will give you the man.”
The Catholic church – and they are not alone in this; other religions know how to play this game too – desperately want to hold onto the power that they currently have to indoctrinate people.
Well the new Minister for Education, Richard Bruton, will have to act. Because what is happening in Ireland now cements inequality of access and of choice. It is deeply, demonstrably and unequivocally wrong...
In the latest issue of Hot Press, editor Niall Stokes asks Simon Coveney to reconsider his position on abortion.Read More
A message from Hot Press editor, Niall Stokes, from our special Dolores O'Riordan tribute issue.Read More
Ireland were humiliated by Denmark, in the worst defeat suffered by an Irish team at home in years. The question now is: can Martin O'Neill stay on as manager?Read More
Darren Randolph was Man of the Match. But how did our other players fare last night? And what team will Martin O'Neill pick for the crunch World Cup tie on Tuesday?Read More
Storms have been afoot, with devastating consequences in parts of Ireland. Step back, however, and they illustrate the extraordinary power of the wind. So why is Ireland not a world leader in wind-generated power?Read More
Women in Ireland should be allowed to control their own fertility.Read More
The emphasis in Mental Health Week is on the well being of everyone who has to grapple with any of a variety of Mental Health issues. Indeed, at some point, that probably includes almost everyone in Irish society.Read More
It was a tough and gruelling encounter - but Ireland deserved to win the crunch World Cup tie against Wales, and to progress to the play-off stage.Read More
Over the past fortnight, a Facebook post by long-time Hot Press contributor Adrienne Murphy highlighted in the most heart-rending way the difficulties of living with a young man with severe autism...Read More
The Ireland and Leinster rugby star tells Hot Press that it is time for change.Read More
As the controversy about the Newstalk presenter refuses to die, the question needs to be asked: where does this poisonous stuff come from?Read More
When you are told that you need a Public Services Card to avail of social welfare or to renew a driving licence, it is mere semantics to claim that the cards are not compulsory…Read More
When you are told that you need a Public Services Card to avail of social welfare or to renew a driving licence, it is mere semantics to claim that the cards are not compulsory…Read More
Ireland’s World Cup hopes hinge on tonight’s do-or-die encounter with Serbia in Dublin. But as Niall Stokes writes, the paucity of tactical ideas on Saturday against Georgia – a recurring theme of O’Neill’s tenure – suggests the omens aren’t good. And if the result doesn’t go our way, it might just signal the end of his time in charge…Read More
Already one of the songs of the new century, Brendan Graham’s ‘You Raise Me Up’ has been selected as the end title track in a 30-episode epic on the man who is credited – along with his daughters – as a founding figure, in the People’s Republic of ChinaRead More
The time for hiding from the lights was over. In so many respects modern Ireland was born in 1987. And central to that was the huge artistic and commercial success of The Joshua Tree...Read More
Niall Stokes draws on his best-selling book Into The Heart: The Stories Behind The Songs Of U2 to offer a unique insight into the way in which some of the greatest songs in the history of popular music came into being.Read More
From Hot Press' 2002 Annual, Bono spoke to Niall Stokes about all matters personal and political.Read More
20 years ago, U2 came out with one of their most highly-anticipated albums, Pop. Niall Stokes met the band following its release for an in-depth interview.Read More
With the damaging impact of Brexit on the UK becoming clearer by the week, the threat of a hard border in Northern Ireland is likely to be used as a bargaining chip in Britain’s increasingly threadbare negotiating strategy.Read More
The Irish Music Rights Organisation has confirmed the appointment of the multi-award winning Irish songwriter, singer and composer Eleanor McEvoy as its new Chairperson, in succession to Keith DonaldRead More
There was what might have seemed like a dramatic development in the controversy surrounding the proposed new ownership of the National Maternity Hospital. But if all that is involved is shifting ownership from one religious interest group to another, then the issue remains as fraught as ever. By Niall StokesRead More
Once upon a time, there was a vision of a digital utopia. Instead, we now have global tech monopolies, surveillance capitalism and extraordinary levels of political manipulation. Welcome to the modern world...Read More
With the decision of Enda Kenny to step down – finally! – as leader of the party with the highest number of TDs in Leinster House, a new Taoiseach is on the way. Here’s an opportunity to check back over our Hot Press interviews with the leading candidates, to see what can be gleaned...Read More
The recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly may not be as far ahead of the public as politicians are claiming. But we also need legislation to prevent the covert use, and abuse, of personal data in the context of a referendum.Read More
The controversy about the ownership of the National Maternity Hospital has invited a new focus on the charitable status of Church institutions – and the extraordinary and unwarranted financial privileges which they have enjoyed since the foundation of the State.Read More
And no, this is not another Hot Press article encouraging mass promiscuity. It is about Brexit, and the push from the far right to completely undermine democratic politics.Read More
The cover of Hot Press is a national institution, coveted by emerging musicians and established stars alike. Now, the historic covers of the magazine – signed by the cover stars, and beautifully printed on specially chosen art paper – have been gathered together for a free exhibition, in the National Photographic Archive, Dublin. Introduction by Niall Stokes…Read More
Confirmation of the fact that the remains of hundreds of babies were buried in a so called ‘Mother and Baby’ home in Tuam, Co. Galway is testament to just how sick the attitude to sexuality promulgated by the dominant Church in Ireland really was. In special edition of The Message, on International Women’s Day, Hot Press editor, Niall Stokes reflects on an issue that has provoked outrage and anger.Read More
On March 9, it will be 30 years since the release of The Joshua Tree, a record that transformed U2 into the biggest rock band in the world. In this issue of Hot Press, we look back to the genesis of the album, how it was put together and and what made it work. And ask: has it stood the test of time?Read More
Over the past week, astonishing revelations have emerged about Garda collusion in a campaign of vilification which painted the whistleblower, Sergeant Maurice McCabe, as a sex offender. With the ‘Child and Family Agency’ Tusla being dragged into it, this has become a real horror story...Read More
With Steve Bannon directing operations, and aided and abetted by a bunch of power-crazed loonies, the answer is probably very far indeed. Things could get extremely nasty...Read More
There's a rocky road ahead. And we’re not talking about the one from Galway to Dublin. The good news is that Irish musicians have become far more politically involved than ever before. The bad news is that we are all facing into a particularly difficult and uncertain future. So how can we all – citizens, musicians and the media alike – deal with the political challenges ahead, from the Referendum to Repeal the 8th to the effects of Donald Trump’s presidency, knowing that we have entered the post-truth world – and that this is the backdrop against which fascism has been gaining momentum?Read More
It took the combined force of Hot Press' Editor Niall Stokes and U2 journalist extraordinaire Bill Graham to thrash it out with the four members of U2 back in 1987 to uncover the method and the magic behind their seminal album THe Joshua Tree.Read More
Speculation has been mounting about a special U2 tour that would celebrate the release of their global smash hit album The Joshua Tree, 30 years on. Well, the announcement will be made this morning...Read More
The funeral took place yesterday of Frank Murray – the man who began his career as tour manager with Thin Lizzy, and worked with Elton John and The Specials, before managing The Pogues, as well as The Frames, The Lost Brothers and more, in what was a highly distinguished career.Read More
Christmas may be coming - but in the wake of the most astonishing US Presidential election in living memory, the fear that a cadre of white supremacists may get their hands on the levers of power is growing. And it feels like uncharted territory...Read More
One of the leading lights of Irish music for the past 25 years, Glen Hansard has been chosen as the recipient of the Oscar Wilde Award for 2017 – which will be presented during Oscar week in the Los Angeles. No one is more deserving...Read More
This is 2016 and very strange and deeply disquieting things have been happening in the US and here in Ireland. It might help if we stopped singing the praises of people guilty of butchering their families, Niall Stokes said in The Message, written in that pregnant pause between the opening of the polling booths and the calculation of the result in the US election. Clearly an afterword is required…Read More
There was an Irish winner tonight, as the novel Solar Bones found favour with the judges, in an award which aims to reward genuine innovation...Read More
The decision of the Nobel Committee to award the Nobel Prize for Literature to Bob Dylan had some culture snobs frothing at the mouth. Even Bob doesn’t seem to know what to make of it all.Read More
It was an emotional occasion when the home-spun Irish epic was unvelied in Dublin’s Savoy Cinema last night.Read More
The World’s Greatest Rock Journalist has broken a decade-long silence to discuss his potential role in the Presidential stakes…Read More
Considerable controversy has surrounded the trail-blazing Galway restaurant – but the Michelin judges say that it’s still right up there, at the top of the game.Read More
It is just over 40 years, since Larry Mullen put the note on the noticeboard in Mount Temple Comprehensive, which led to the formation of U2. As various contributions to this special issue of Hot Press confirm, that gesture changed the world for millions of people all over the globe. But that they are still together is perhaps the band’s greatest achievement...Read More
The Hot Press Collective sends a message to the people of IrelandRead More
Hot Press alumni are among the leading attractions at the upcoming Write By The Sea festival in Kilmore QuayRead More
The Minister for Skills, Training and Innovation, John Halligan put his head above the parapet in relation to the laws on prostitution in Ireland. As it happens, he was right.Read More
Irish people have moved on in a way that is genuinely impressive. Dr. Lara Kelly’s testimony on abortion is one example. But there is a new honesty among Irish politicians too that gives cause for optimism.Read More
The family of the Mayo woman, who disappeared in December 2000, have called for an inquest into her death...Read More
Anyone who has experienced the manifest beauty and wonderful joie-de-vivre of Nice at its best will have been deeply moved at the shocking mass murder on the Promenade des Anglais July 18. But Europe must look into its own heart too, to find answers..Read More
Reports that HMV are to close down their four Irish stores have been confirmed – but news reports that the company’s new online platform will go head to head with streaming giant, Netflix, are not accurate.Read More
Details are emerging of the deal, concluded yesterday, which saw Virgin Media – owners of TV3 – buy UTV IrelandRead More
The UK referendum was won by the Leave side on the promise that Britain would take back control of its borders. Their victory will stoke far right, anti-immigrant sentiment across the continent.Read More
For a wonderful 60 minutes, it seemed that Ireland might just oust the hosts France from Euro 2016. That dream may have died as a result of errors in Lyons yesterday – but the sense that Irish football is on the rise once more is a wonderfully encouraging one. By Niall Stokes.Read More
It was an enthralling day of football at Euro 2016, with Ireland getting off to a solid start in Group E – only to be trumped by a brilliant Italian win over Belgium.Read More
Irish Water and Repealing the 8th can take a back-seat as the Euros kick-off in France. Now all we need are a few Shane Long hat-tricks to seal the deal...Read More
A year on from our historic and momentous 'Yes' vote on Ireland's same-sex marriage referendum, we look back at Niall Stokes' pre-vote message urging the citizens of Ireland to vote for freedom, equality and mutual respectRead More
Guy Clark was one of the greatest songwriters of the modern era – and in Old No.1, he made one of the most extraordinary and enduring albums of all time. By Hot Press editor, Niall StokesRead More
Prince was the latest in a long line of black artists - from Sam Cooke and Otis Redding to Jimi Hendrix and Marvin Gaye - to push the envelope, both musically and culturally...Read More
Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil need to end the posturing and hammer out a deal, which will provide the country with a sustainable government.Read More
The Proclamation of 1916 was a powerful document. In recalling the momentous events of a hundred years ago, it is important not just to honour those who took part in the Rising, but- even more so- to see what we can learn in order to best shape our future...Read More
Where now for the Labour Party, after an electoral annihilation the scale of which outstripped all their worst fears?Read More
As the nation heads to the polls, it’s vital to consider not just the candidates vying for our votes, but the type of country in which we want to liveRead More
When Enya released Watermark in 1988, it WAS the beginning of one of the most remarkable chapters in the story of Irish music. With Nicky Ryan and Roma Ryan ever-present as collaborators, 80 million album sales and dozens of awards followed. Now, after a seven year hiatus, she is back with a new record, Dark Sky Island, and a determination to take the collective’s music to the world in a different way.Read More
Darkness seemed to be everywhere in 2015. It is hard to maintain any sense of hope, when barbarism is so militantly on the rise. But if we don't, we surely will be lost...Read More
The orchestrated jihadist attacks on Paris were an abomination. And the worst of the atrocities took place at a rock gig in the Bataclan, where 89 people died. So where do we go from here?Read More
As the iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE tour finally approaches Irish shores, it's time to once again celebrate U2 - not just the best of Irish, but the greatest rock band in the world.Read More
As recently highlighted by Roopesh Panicker, it is outrageous that, in 2015, educational discrimination on the basis of religion is still the norm in Ireland.Read More
After the high of beating the World Champions, neanderthal tactics and selections by Martin O'Neill ensured that The Boys In Green could not match the Sunday heroics of our rugby team...Read More
We've come a long way since the '60s, with music, literature, movies, TV and journalism all playing their part to reduce the stigma of mental illness. But reason must still prevail if we are to continue to make strides.Read More
With Europe's response to the refugee crisis lacking in effectiveness and empathy, the threat of ISIS suggests WB Yeats' most chilling words are now perfectly fitting for these times...Read More
Amidst the shock and grief of Johnny Lyons' premature passing, we pause to give thanks to a truly unique character for the countless laughs and many golden memories he gave us. Shine on, sir...Read More
As rental prices of houses and apartments skyrocket, especially in Dublin, thousands of Irish men, women and – unforgivably – children find themselves at grave risk of homelessness. Between them, local politicians and the Government must find a solution – and fast...Read More
It is easy to vilify those who take banned substances in the pursuit of sporting glory, but some of those who would be named and shamed are far more sympathetic figures than we would like to admit...Read More
...Or Ireland at least. Blazing rows erupted and staff members had to be pried apart, but the votes are in and the 50 best Irish gigs since Hot Press's inception have been settled on.Read More
The response to the tragedy in Berkeley was powerful and moving. But it is hard to listen to celebrities claiming a special relationship with God, when there are so many victims of tragedy – and of oppression– to think about...Read More
Sunday June 14 marks the 20th anniversary of the legendary Rory Gallagher's tragic death. While the world has changed in many ways, the trail-blazing guitarist's impact is still keenly felt...Read More
It was a joy to be alive in Dublin on the day the result of the referendum was announced. But there is still some way to go in the campaign for the separation of Church and State...Read More
"We're uncompromising. We're uncompromising to a fault I think. Because sometimes we're wrong. Sometimes we wind-up up blind alleys. You know. Maybe Radio Ethiopia sucks. I Don't know. Me and Patti are the only ones that like it in the world. But I don't care 'cos when we put that on we feel great." - Lenny Kaye [First Published in Hot Press Volume 2 No 7, September 1978]Read More
The referendum on same sex marriage is an opportunity for the citizens of Ireland to vote for freedom, equality and mutual respect – and in doing so to show the rest of the world what these words can really mean...Read More
With Hozier, HamsandwicH, Paul Brady, Le Galaxie and Kodaline all doing well, we are witnessing a small boom in Irish music. So how can we ensure that it lifts an even greater number of Ireland’s finest into the charts?Read More
Irish people who genuinely believe in free speech need to support the scrapping of our blasphemy laws.Read More
These are turbulent times, as Sinn Fein and socialist Independents find themselves in the unprecedented situation of topping the opinion polls. However you view this, pause to be thankful that there is no hard-Right movement of significance in Ireland, and no apparent appetite for one...Read More
It was one of those special Dublin nights. The occasion was a fund-raiser for a new short film, entitled Descend, directed by Hedi Rose, and written by Irish-based Texan screenwriter Margaret Miller. The location was upstairs in The 51 Bar on Haddington Road.Read More
Like paying to have your rubbish collected, Irish Water is another stealth charge, the genesis of which goes back to the decision to abolish household rates...Read More
Check out her take on 'Dreaming'...Read More
When U2 released their latest album Songs of Innocence, it was the subject of heated controversy. While the arguments aren't over yet, the attention is gradually turning to the music...Read More
The hacking of Jennifer Lawrence's phone, and the leaking of her private photos, was a criminal action – and much of the subsequent reaction was downright nasty.Read More
If we want to end the stigma associated with suicide, we first have to acknowledge the right to die. Far from being a threat, it is empowering to know that our future is in our own hands.Read More
Well known Dublin band are back with a crash, bang and wallop...Read More
Ours is an increasingly multi-cultural society. However, our vast State bureaucracy has refused to move with the times. Fundamental changes are needed if asylum seekers coming to Ireland are to receive justice.Read More