National schools give pupil’s private information to priests.

Publicly funded National schools are handing over the contact details of some children to priests. This breaches the Data Protection Acts and the human right to private and family life under the European Convention (Article 8).

How would you feel if a Catholic priest rang you up and asked why your child is not making first Holy Communion? If you decide to opt out your child from the Holy Communion class in your local National school then you could be getting that type of phone call from your local Catholic priest.

The contact details of parents are collected by National schools in order that the school can contact the parents and especially in the case of an emergency. As you can appreciate none of the parents signed anything that would permit the school to give their contact details or private information to the local Catholic priest. In Ireland the majority of publicly funded National schools are under the patronage of the Catholic Church and atheist/secular parents are coerced by force of circumstance to access an education for their children in these publicly funded National schools.

Atheist Ireland has sought clarification from the Office of the Data Commissioner on this issue which we outline below. It is possible to ask the Data Commissioner to investigate if you discover that a school has given your private information to the local priest without your consent.

We receive many complaints from parents regarding opting out of religion in schools. We have noticed that some parents mention that the local priest contacted them to discuss why their child was not participating in the preparation for first Holy Communion. Many parents get their children baptised into the Catholic faith in order to access the only school in the area. For some parents preparation for first Holy Communion has become the decision making time when they formally opt out their child from religion classes and any preparation for Holy Communion.

From the complaints that Atheist Ireland receives we notice that parents are so concerned about the actual religious discrimination that they are suffering in the school that they don’t question how the local priest got their contact details and how he discovered that they were opting their child out of preparation for first Holy Communion.

Many parents have no contact with the local Catholic Church and have never given them any contact details.  Whatever about some rural areas where everyone knows each other, in urban areas it is difficult to understand what other method the priest could use for getting this type of information. The only body that would have this information is the local National school. Some parents have told us that during the phone conversation they are asked to reflect on their lives and pressure is put on them to let their child take first Holy Communion.

Atheist Ireland has got clarification from the Office of the Data Commissioner (see below) and if you believe that your local National school has handed over your contact details to a priest then you can make a complaint to

Office of the Data Protection Commissioner, Canal House, Station Road,
Portarlington, Co Laois, Ireland
telephone: 057 868 4800
fax: 057 868 4757

Response from Office of Data Protection Commissioner to Atheist Ireland.

Under the Data Protection Acts 1988 & 2003, a data controller has a number of key responsibilities regarding the personal data it holds. One of these responsibilities is to ensure that data is kept safe and secure. Under section 2(1)(d)  “appropriate security measures shall be taken against unauthorised access to, or unauthorised alteration, disclosure or destruction of, the data, in particular where the processing involves the
transmission of data over a network, and against all other unlawful forms of processing”.

In addition the Acts state that “the data shall not be further processed in any manner incompatible with that purpose or those purposes” – section 2(1)(c)(ii) of the Act.

If a data controller obtains information for a particular purpose, they may not use the data for any other purpose, and may not divulge the personal data to a third party, except in ways that are “compatible” with the specified purpose. A key test of compatibility is whether you use and disclose the data in a way in which those who supplied the information would expect it to be used and disclosed.

We advise schools that when they are approached for information by third parties, that they satisfy themselves that they have a basis under the Data Protection Acts to comply with the request.  Often, this will require getting the consent of parents either on a once-off basis for a particular use of data or consent collected as part of the enrolment process.  Aside from consent, where a school is either under a legal obligation to provide specific data or where legislation permits a school to release specific data, it can do so in compliance with the Acts and we advise schools that it seek the specific legal basis in writing from the requesting entity before it considers disclosing data.

In the scenario you outline there may be cases that the parish priest is not a third party per se as they would often be chairperson or a member of the schools board of management but the purpose for which the information is being obtained is not being adhered to.  I would suggest that if a parent has any documentary proof that a school has further processed information relating to their child to a third party without meeting the criteria above they may forward this information along with a written complaint to our office and we will consider the matter for investigation.


  1. Avatar
    steve white August 14, 2013

    is that priest on the board of management? who is the data controller in schools?

  2. Avatar
    GodVlogger September 01, 2013

    Given the track record of the Catholic clergy for the way they have interacted with Ireland’s precious children for so many decades, the LAST thing any sensible parent would want would be for the local clergy to be preying upon these children or stealing their identifying data.

    What are the means for filing formal charges or an inquisition into how the priests obtained this data?


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