The UN’s Committee on the Rights of the Child stated that comprehensive and evidence-based sex education is required to be integrated into Irish school curriculums at all levels of education and teacher training. Ireland has to make sure that gender equality, sexual diversity, sexual and reproductive health rights, responsible sexual behaviour and violence prevention are included.
The current guidelines are 25 years old, and last October, Minister for Education Norma Foley admitted an “urgent need” for modern curricula, calling it a “priority”. The committee has also called on Ireland to amend laws that hinder a child’s right to education on the basis or religious or “ethos” grounds.
Ireland has still more than 90% of primary schools and half of all secondary schools that are religiously run. These schools are legally allowed to refuse admission of students not belonging to their religious denomination if they can prove such refusal is necessary in order to maintain the ethos of the school.
Schools run by a minority religion are also legally allowed to prioritise a student of that religion or a similar one.
The UN Committee calls for both the Education (Admission to Schools) Act of 2018, and the Equal Status Acts to be amended in order to ensure the right of all children to practice freely their religion or belief. The Committee has also said that statutory guidelines should be introduced to guarantee a child’s right not to attend religious classes in school, and it also recommended that “a time-bound strategy, with adequate resources” for meeting targets for increasing the availability of multi-denominational schools by 2030 should be developed.