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A 50-year-old rule mandating religious instruction in Irish schools has been lifted.

Education advisers to the Irish Government have unveiled a number of ground breaking proposals concerning Education about Religion, Beliefs and Ethics subjects applicable for all children in the country's 3,000 primary schools. The ERBE proposals, if implemented, would mean a slash in amount of time carved out to teach children about religion. This is certain to be opposed by the Catholic Church.

Jan O'Sullivan, the Minister for Education, has abolished the official rule, followed for 50 years, that provides religion classes an exalted status at primary level. At present, about 30 minutes of any primary school day is given for religious education. This is twice the time given for physical education and science.

Ms. O'Sullivan, speaking at the conference of Irish Primary Principals Network, said that reasonable time per day has been allocated by 1998 Education Act when it comes to protecting schools' rights for the subjects linked to the ethos of the school. She said that Rule 68 was a symbol of the past and not the future. The rule was old and she is glad to see it removed. She also mentioned that she had directed the departmental officials to start identifying other rules which can be rescinded. Rules that were drafted in 1965 are odd in this day and age and were also superseded by legislative or curricular changes.

Ms. O'Sullivan said that the curriculum will offer every child the shared knowledge of beliefs and religions held not only by the Irish people but by people from all corners of the world. The result will be that every child has an ethical understanding when it comes to relationships between individuals and the way we connect to the world. The new primary curriculum will be under consultation by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment in 2016. 

There is the inevitable backlash from religious-minded schools. Professor Eamonn Conway of Mary Immaculate, a training college for primary teachers, has described such proposals as strange. He has questioned the reason as to why a faith-centric school must offer secularist understanding of the religious faith. He added that the proposals, if introduced, could have an adverse reaction to religious instruction and may damage the characteristic ethos of faith-centric schools. About 90 percent of primary schools are run by the Catholic Church. It has the power to create its own education program. 

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