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Religion, Education and Religious Education in Irish Schools

Part of the Boundaries of Religious Freedom: Regulating Religion in Diverse Societies book series (BOREFRRERE,volume 4)


The character of religious education (RE) in Ireland is intimately linked to the religious patronage (ownership) of most publicly funded schools by religious institutions. Approximately 90 % of schools are run by the Catholic Church. This tradition of religious patronage is increasingly at odds with Ireland’s contemporary multicultural and multireligious society and raises pan-European questions of human rights, especially children’s rights, in the sphere of taxpayer-funded education. The chapter outlines the education system in Ireland (little known outside the republic) and discusses primary and secondary RE as well as current RE teacher education programmes including the innovative “Religions and Global Diversity” undergraduate programme at University College Cork. Progress towards the kind of multireligious RE recommended by the European Council of Ministers has recently slowed. The Irish Government exercises only limited control over what is taught in schools’ RE, and there are still very few teachers properly qualified to deliver education about religions (plural).


  • Ireland
  • Irish
  • Religion
  • Religious education
  • Europe
  • Human rights
  • Patronage
  • Multicultural
  • Catholic
  • Protestant
  • Jewish
  • Muslim
  • Schools
  • Teachers
  • Inclusion
  • Exclusion

This chapter has been slightly updated and adapted for this volume from Áine Hyland and Brian Bocking ‘Religion, Education, and Religious Education in Irish Schools’ published in July 2015 in the journal Teaching Theology & Religion, 18, 3: 252–261 (DOI: 10.1111/teth.12292). We are grateful to the publisher John Wiley & Sons Ltd. for kind permission to republish the material from the journal.

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  1. 1.

    See the Introduction to this volume.

  2. 2.

    In this chapter, Ireland refers to the 26 counties of the Republic of Ireland. It does not include the six counties of Northern Ireland which are part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (comprising England , Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland).

  3. 3.

    The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) in Ireland has limited powers to determine what happens in the classroom, since schools are controlled by their patrons (normally the local Bishop). As the NCCA website diplomatically explains: “While Ireland has a centrally devised curriculum, there is a strong emphasis on school and classroom planning. At school level, the particular character of the school makes a vital contribution to shaping the curriculum in classrooms. Adaptation of the curriculum to suit the individual school is achieved through the preparation and continuous updating of a school plan. The selection of text books and classroom resources to support the implementation of the curriculum is made by schools, rather than by the Department of Education and Science or the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment” [our italics]. See NCCA (2015).

  4. 4.

    The 2012 Report of the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism (80) recommended that the Rules for National Schools should be reviewed and updated and that, as a first step, Rule 68 should be deleted as soon as possible.

  5. 5.

    Sakaranaho points out that due to lack of suitable English-language textbooks drawing their examples from Islamic culture (for all subjects): “Muslim schools use the standard Irish textbooks which are often informed by the Catholic ethos” (2009: 213).

  6. 6.

    O’Kelly (2012) includes links to numerous government files released to RTÉ, the national broadcaster, in response to a Freedom of Information request submitted 2 years earlier. See also RTÉ (2012).

  7. 7.

    This listing makes it clear that the Teaching Council regards “World Religions” and “Christianity” as quite separate categories. In our experience, Irish policymakers still use discriminatory categories, such as “other religions” and “non-Christians”, in public discourse about RE.

  8. 8.

    See the Teaching Council’s PME Declaration Form (used by applicants) at


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Correspondence to Brian Bocking .

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Hyland, Á., Bocking, B. (2016). Religion, Education and Religious Education in Irish Schools. In: Berglund, J., Shanneik, Y., Bocking, B. (eds) Religious Education in a Global-Local World. Boundaries of Religious Freedom: Regulating Religion in Diverse Societies, vol 4. Springer, Cham.

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