Atheist Ireland welcomes Education Committee report supporting objective sex education

Atheist Ireland welcomes the Oireachtas Education Committee report on Objective Sex Education. The report has recommended, as Atheist Ireland asked it to do, that the law must be changed to remove the role of ethos as a barrier to the objective and factual delivery of sex education curriculums. It has set a target date of the end of the year for this to happen.

This is the first time that an Oireachtas Committee has recognised that students have a right to an objective education for the State curriculum, even in denominational schools, outside of the patron’s religion or values programmes. All students have a human right to have the state curriculum delivered in an objective, critical, and pluralistic manner.

The Committee members present at today’s launch all emphasised the importance of this right. They were chairperson Fiona O’Loughlin TD of Fianna Fail, Thomas Byrne TD Fianna Fail education spokesperson, Jan O’Sullivan TD of the Labour Party, Catherine Martin TD of the Green Party, and Senator Robbie Gallagher of Fianna Fail. Independent Senator Lynn Ruane sent her apologies for not being there.

Paul Murphy TD of Solidarity was also in attendance. This report strengthens the case for this key element of Solidarity’s Objective Sex Education Bill. That Bill is currently stalled in the Oireachtas, awaiting a procedural decision by the Government to allow it to move on to the next stage after being passed in the Dail.

The Committee has recommended that the Education Act 1998 be amended or at least reviewed, so that ethos can no longer be used as a barrier to the effective, objective and factual teaching of the RSE and SPHE curriculum to which every student is entitled.

The Committee has also recommended that the necessary legislative amendments required to remove the role of ethos as a barrier to the objective and factual delivery of the RSE and SPHE curriculums be made as soon as possible and at the latest by the end of 2019.

The Committee took note of two Circular letters from the Department. Circular 0023/20109 provides that ‘programmes which are based on information alone are very limited in the learning outcomes they can achieve and can in fact be counter productive in influencing values, attitudes and behaviour’.

Circular 0037/201010 on the other hand recognises the obligation of schools to have an RSE programme that is ‘objective, based on contemporary scientific evidence and does not involve censoring, withholding or intentionally misrepresenting information, for example as regards contraception or different means on maintaining sexual and reproductive health’.

The Committee was advised that the Education Act 1998 will need to be amended because the NCCA has no legal power over how the curriculum is delivered by school patron bodies with their own religious ethos. Atheist Ireland made this point in our written submission, and also when Jane Donnelly addressed the Committee on our behalf.

The Committee recommended that clarity is given by the DES regarding how schools and colleges, under religious patronage, should implement a comprehensive RSE programme so that all children and young people are treated equally. The Committee also recommended that the Education Act 1998 be reviewed so that ethos can no longer be used as a barrier to the effective teaching of the RSE and SPHE curriculum.

This is the second time that an Oireachtas Education Committee has accepted Atheist Ireland’s arguments against the use of religious ethos in Irish schools. In 2014 the Committee concluded that multiple patronage and ethos as a basis for policy can lead to segregation and inequality in the education system.


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