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Religious symbols in State schools must reflect ‘entire community’

The new blueprint for State-run primary and secondary schools says that religious symbols must be inclusive of the ‘entire community. It follows a confusion over whether Education and Training Boards run schools are Catholic in practice even though they are supposed to be multidenominational by law.

The confusion results from the 1970s legally binding agreements with the Catholic Church that require a quarter of these schools to keep a Catholic ethos and provide students with religious instructions. Some of these schools still have graduation Masses, Catholic symbols only and arranged visits from Catholic religious representative.

Yet, the ETB Ireland patrons’ framework on ethos obliges all State schools in future to be based on five core values: excellence in education, care, equality, community and respect. The framework states that “equality” should be evident in the “visual images, resources and displays” that are used in schools, adding that “religious and belief celebrations which take place throughout the school year are equitable in relation to symbolic representation, time spent and emphasis”. Displayed religious symbols should be “reflective of the religions and beliefs of the entire school community”.

Dr Seamus Conboy, director of schools with ETB Ireland, said that in spite of core valued being agreed across all schools, including more than 50 so-called “designated” community colleges at second level which have legal agreements with Catholic Church, “discussions are still ongoing with the Irish Episcopal Commission, on behalf of the religious bodies involved in designated community colleges, on how the agreed core values are defined in these schools,”. The discussions particularly focus on “how these schools respond to the religion/belief identities of all students in a manner that is consistent with the agreed core values, while at the same time respecting the legal agreements underpinning these schools”.


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