State pays €9.8m a year for chaplains in State ETB schools

According to a recent Parliamentary response to a question by Ruth Coppinger, there are 156 Chaplains working in ETB schools, at a cost of €9.8 million to the State. Over half of second level schools are denominational, and most of the rest are defined as multi-denominational State schools with the local ETB as patron.

The ETBs claim that they have no resources to provide another subject for students who opt out of any religious teaching, but they have €9.8 million to help religious parents with the faith formation of their children. That is just religious discrimination. All ETBs claim that they are inclusive, but “inclusive” to them is “religious discrimination” to us and to the United Nations Human Rights Committee.

Chaplains are paid by the State, and sanctioned by the relevant religious authority, which in most cases is the local Catholic Bishop. This means that the €9.8 million goes towards helping Catholic parents with the faith formation of their children in state schools. Chaplains of religions other than “the relevant religion” do not get a look in, as per the job description of chaplains quoted later in this article. That is not pluralism. That is religious discrimination.

When the ETBs speak of pluralism they are referring to religious pluralism, not objective pluralism that includes atheist and non-religious families on the same basis as religious families. Instead, ETB Community Schools and Designated Community Colleges have access to a State funded Chaplain whose specific role is to faith form.

UN Human Rights Committee

Multi-denominational means just that, multi-denominational; a combination of two or more religious denominations. The UN Human Rights Committee has specifically recommended that Ireland open up non-denominational schools, in order to protect the rights of those parents seeking secular education for their children.

“The State party should increase its efforts to ensure that non-denominational primary education is widely available in all regions of the State party, in view of the increasingly diverse and multi-ethnic composition of the population of the State party.”

But the State and ETBs actively undermine this UN recommendation. Instead, they use the word non-denominational in a derogatory manner, as if it means banning religion or promoting atheism, which of course it doesn’t.

Non-denominational schools are schools that treat all students equally, regardless of their religious or nonreligious beliefs. They can teach about religions and beliefs in an objective, critical, and pluralistic manner, without giving preference to religious belief over nonreligious belief, or vice versa.

The role of chaplains in ETB schools

The role of the Chaplain in ETBs is defined by them in their job description which states that:-

“2.2 Faith teaching and practice are intrinsic to school chaplaincy. Accordingly, the Chaplain is a person of faith, a Priest, Religious or lay person of the relevant faith, committed to the teaching and values of Christ, acting on behalf of the Church and the school community while upholding the teaching and moral standards and practices of the Competent Religious Authority, together with the Characteristic spirit and founding intention of the school.”

1.4 The Chaplain shall co-ordinate specified activities associated with the faith journey of students in collaboration with others who also have designated pastoral responsibilities in the school community. S/he shall act collaboratively with all members of the school community and, in particular, with those who hold designated pastoral responsibilities relating to students, staff and members of the wider community connected with the school. The Chaplain will be aware of the importance of sacramental/liturgical celebrations and will ensure that students have the opportunity of attending such celebrations periodically during the school year.

1.5 The Chaplain shall co-operate with and participate in all activities which relate to the wellbeing and development of the school, e.g. school planning, school self-evaluation, in-service etc.

1.6 The Chaplain shall ensure that the characteristic spirit of the school, reflecting the founding intention of the school and the school’s mission statement, finds practical expression in faith formation as well as pastoral, liturgical, para-liturgical and outreach activities. In that regard, the Chaplain shall pay due regard to the provisions for religious instruction and religious worship as provided for in the Model Agreement in Community Colleges.”

Parliamentary Question and response

This is the recent Parliamentary question from Ruth Coppinger and the response from the Minister of Education, Joe McHugh:-

Question:- To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the funding allocated to chaplains in community and education and training board schools in 2018; and the number of chaplains appointed in 2018.

Response:- “My Department allocates chaplain posts to Education and Training Boards (ETB) and Community and Comprehensive schools and colleges. There are currently 156 whole time equivalent chaplain posts allocated to these schools. The annual cost is approximately €9.8m.

The appointment of chaplains to these schools flow from the original agreements concluded when the schools concerned were established. The chaplains perform pastoral and counselling roles and play an important role in supporting student wellbeing.

Those chaplains who are registered as teachers with the Teaching Council can also teach a minimum number of hours per week.”

Chaplains are not counsellors

Despite the fact that the Minister said that “The chaplains perform pastoral and counselling roles and play an important role in supporting student well-being”, their main function is to help Catholic parents with the faith formation of their children, this was defined by the Supreme Court as Religious and Moral formation. (Supreme Court Campaign to Separate Church & State v Minister for Education).

The Parliamentary Response from the Minister to Ruth Coppinger omitted the main purpose of the duties of Chaplains which is faith formation. The Minister’s Response also said that the Chaplains perform ‘counselling roles’. The job description of the Chaplain states the exact opposite.

It says that Chaplains are not counsellors and must direct a student to other channels if they seek counselling. The Minister for Education, Joe McHugh has given a Parliamentary response to Ruth Coppinger that was not an answer to the question and part of the answer that was given was incorrect.

b) The Chaplain is not a counsellor. While some Chaplains may have professional qualifications in
counselling, such “professional” counselling is not part of the Chaplaincy role. In the event of
professional counselling being required by a student, the Chaplin should refer such case(s) to
the Principal for referral to the relevant service.

It seems that the Chaplains in ETB schools are paid €9.8 million for faith formation duties which include upholding the moral standards and practices of the Catholic church, even though the Minister for Education, Joe McHugh will not publicly say so.

Campaign Supreme Court Case

The Campaign to Separate Church and State case at the Supreme Court 1995 was about the payment of Chaplains in Community and Comprehensive schools. The Court found that this payment wasn’t an endowment of religion, forbidden by the Constitution, because the State was helping parents with the religious education of their children (Article 42.1). The Supreme Court said that, Parents need not settle ‘merely’ for religious instruction (Article 44.2.4).

The Supreme Court (Justice Barrington) went on to say that Chaplains were  Constitutionally forbidden from teaching religious instruction to a student who was not from a Catholic family without the knowledge and permission of their parents. Chaplains in ETB teach minority students all the time without the knowledge of their parents as their Contract obliges them to teach four hours per week.

GDPR issues

If the job of Chaplains is to mainly help Catholic families with the faith formation of their children, then how do they identify those children? ETB schools must ask parents their religion in order for the Chaplain to help with the faith formation of children from Catholic families. The only other alternative is that the Chaplains faith form all students, including those from minority backgrounds. Protecting the right to privacy is not on the agenda of the ETBs and they can and do ask about the religious beliefs of families in order for the Chaplain to faith form and evangelise according to their job description.

Issues around GDPR must come into play, as schools will be seeking, storing and sharing sensitive information about the religion of parents and their children. As far as we are aware no ETB schools take cognisance of this issue as they just disregard GDPR as the rights of minorities are not an issue for them.


On the one hand, the Catholic Church and the ETBs get €9.8 million per year from the State to faith form in state ETB schools, in addition to payments to Accord and Catholic retreats. On the other hand, they claim that there are no resources to give another subject to students who exercise their Constitutional right to opt out of religion class. This is religious discrimination and shows the disrespect that ETBs and the Minister has for minorities.


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