Schools 'scaremongering' parents with 'exaggerated' threat that Christmas and Easter celebrations could be scrapped
Schools have been accused of scaremongering over claims that switching from a Catholic ethos would mean they could no longer mark events such as Christmas, Shrove Tuesday and St Patrick's Day.
The row has broken out over moves to transfer control of one of eight Catholic schools in the north Co Dublin area of Portmarnock-Malahide-Kinsealy to a more multi-denominational ethos.
Fianna Fáil education spokesperson Thomas Byrne reacted strongly to letters sent by two of the eight schools to parents.
The letters warned that change would effectively end their Christmas celebrations and other traditions that have their roots in religion but are observed by society at large.
"This thing about Christmas is straight off Fox News in the States. It's a huge exaggeration and I think the parents should simply dismiss those. I believe it was scaremongering.
"I have direct personal experience of multi-denominational schools and I have a lot of engagement with them and I can tell you even St Brigid's Day is commemorated in many multi-denominational schools - not in a Catholic way, but in the Irish tradition. Certainly Christmas," he said.
Paul Rowe, chief executive of Educate Together, the non-denominational patron body, described the schools' claims as "incorrect and misleading".
According to Educate Together, Christmas is marked in its schools, as are non-Catholic religious festivals such as Diwali and Eid.
The patron body said it was not interested in 'taking over' any schools and imposing an ethos against the will of local communities, adding that it had transferred a number of schools to its patronage - all of which were now thriving school communities.
Séamus Conboy, educational policy and development officer with Education and Training Boards Ireland (ETBI), the patron body of multi-denominational community national schools, said it was imperative that information given to staff and parents in schools which were considering reconfiguration was accurate.
"Education and training boards are available to provide this information to other patrons and school communities if requested to do so," he said.
Labour education spokesperson Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin called for a Citizens' Assembly to consider changes to the Constitution to address religious control of the education system.
"The fact that such a process is being objected to highlights the fact that we are not yet at a point to bring communities with us on secular education," he said.