Ruairi Quinn, the Irish Minister for Education, spoke at a meeting organised by INTO, the Irish National Teachers Organisation, ruffled some feathers by offering his own suggestions on how education and religion should co-exist peacefully and happily in the classroom.
However, some of his ideas have been met with contempt from members of the religious institutions of Ireland, because they are based primarily in giving non-religious children the option of not being present during religious based activities. This has caused concerns over access to education as well as students’ safety.
One of the ideas that has been widely acknowledged as a good idea has been his emphasis on promoting inclusivity of children from all faith backgrounds and nonbelievers. Ireland has struggled with religious coherence for many years, and no one is fool enough to ignore any ideas that can bring together those of different faith ideas.
He has also suggested that within religiously affiliated schools, religion classes could be moved within a school’s timetable, so that they would occur at the beginning or the end of the school day. This would allow students that do not wish to participate in the classes to easily miss them without drawing too much attention to themselves. Ruairi Quinn did not, however, state whether this change would be legislatively brought in, or a highly recommended action for schools to take, and therefore side-stepped the issue of enforcement. Other complications such as child supervision and transport were also ignored, both of which will create concerns over pupil safety. This has caused some to claim that these ideas and suggestions have not been as well thought through as they should have been.
Ruairi Quinn states that he wishes for all schools within Ireland to be ‘genuinely inclusive’, and has found it ‘disappointing’ that the Church itself has not been particularly proactive when it comes to working and liaising with his department. He also made hints about his previous characterisation by the media, stating that his opinions on religious education “have often been misrepresented.” Ruairi Quinn ended his speech by affirming every family and child’s right to access religious education, but emphasised that this, in its turn, gave every family and child the right to opt out of religious education.