Thursday, 14 May 1992
Dáil Éireann Debate
13. Mr. McCartan asked the Minister for Education if he has considered the recent report entitled, the Place of Religious Education in the National School System; if he will outline his response to the report; if he intends to act on any of its recommendations; if, in regard to second level, he will outline the amount of time which a class is obliged, by recommendations or by departmental advice, to devote to religious education in any given week; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
Mr. S. Brennan: I presume the Deputy in referring to a recent report has in mind that prepared by the education committee of the Irish National Teachers' Organisation and which received publicity in the media recently. I understand that the report was prepared as a paper to facilitate discussion within the teaching profession. The paper raises questions and issues for discussion rather than makes recommendations. These issues will be considered as they arise in the context of the Green Paper discussion.
The position in regard to time to be allocated for religious education in second level schools at present is as follows. (1) Secondary: The Department do not lay down any period to be devoted to religious instruction. A maximum of three hours of religious education is reckonable in the obligatory minimum 18 hours instruction period required of each teacher per week in order to qualify for  payment of incremental salary; (2) Comprehensive schools: Religious education must be provided but no time period per week is specified by the Department; (3) Community and vocational schools: Official documentation issued to such schools has envisaged a period of the order of two hours per week for religious education.
Mr. Gilmore: Does the Minister intend to amend the rules for national schools in terms of the existing requirement whereby religious instruction is integrated into secular instruction? Has the Minister sought the advice of the Attorney General with regard to the constitutionality of the integration of religious and secular teaching, and what was the nature of his advice?
Mr. S. Brennan: The Attorney General has suggested to me that I should await seeking his advice on constitutional aspects of this matter until the High Court has indicated its views. At that time I will, of course, seek his views on the constitutional issues. Up to now I have only sought his views on the general legal situation and that is his advice in that regard.
In regard to national schools, the Deputy is probably aware that the rules for national schools are that no pupil shall receive or be present at religious instruction of which his parents or guardians disapprove, and that there is a procedure to facilitate the withdrawal of pupils who do not wish to receive this instruction.
Mr. Gilmore: I was not referring particularly to religious instruction on its own. I was referring to the rules for national schools which require that a religious ethos must be part of the general instruction in the school. Has the Minister addressed himself to that issue and is it his intention, as was reported recently in the public press, to separate religious instruction from the generality of instruction in primary schools and other schools?
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