THE primates of Ireland's two main churches have hit back at Education Minister Ruairi Quinn's call for the time allocated by schools to the teaching of religion to be cut back.
Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin told the Irish Independent that religious education and religious-run schools are "an essential and fundamental part of our educational system" and good religious education must remain a "fundamental part of the DNA of a pluralist system".
The archbishop, who is patron of 470 primary schools and 185 secondary schools, also hit back at the minister's criticism of the slowness of the process of divesting patronage from Catholic patrons to alternative patrons.
Instead, Dr Martin laid the blame for tardiness at the door of politicians.
"We have been working very hard on this," he said. "The opposition and challenges very often come from local politicians who throw spanners in works that are nearly there."
He said he had told Mr Quinn this, and added: "Don't blame the church or church schools for the slowness."
Dr Martin said: "In times of local elections, local issues can be taken up" by politicians but that the focus should remain on "where we want to go."
Separately, the Church of Ireland Primate and Archbishop of Dublin Michael Jackson told the Irish Independent: "I think it is important that the teaching of religion stays."
He was speaking after the Rubicon Social Justice conference in Dublin, which was addressed by speakers from a range of Christian perspectives.
Dr Jackson said that within the curriculum there was "a genuine entitlement to use time to a religious end".