Eamon Ryan backs away from attack on Catholic education

Green Party candidate Eamon Ryan has backed away from controversial remarks attributed to him calling for an end to State funding for Catholic schools.

According to campaign group Atheist Ireland Mr Ryan, who is running in the European elections in Dublin, is supporting a so-called secular statement which also calls for an end to charitable status for religious bodies and removal of religious references from the Constitution.

According to the group, Mr Ryan, who as Communications Minister refused to lift a ban on advertising the sale of Holy Communion gifts, and his Green Party supporters signed a statement based on the so-called ‘Dublin Declaration’.

However, Mr Ryan told The Irish Catholic that the views attributed to him by Atheist Ireland do not, in fact, reflect his opinions on Catholic education.

“I will contact Atheist Ireland to make sure they correctly reflect my opinion,” he said. However, the Atheist Ireland website still claims that Mr Ryan supports their secular statement.

Atheist Ireland Chairman Michael Nugent confirmed to The Irish Catholic that “neither I nor our Dublin chairperson has had any correspondence from Eamon Ryan on this”. Mr Nugent said he was unaware whether or not Mr Ryan had been in touch with anyone from Atheist Ireland.

Despite this, Mr Ryan told The Irish Catholic: “I have never argued, said or expressed any view that State funding of religious education in schools should be discontinued”.

The Atheist Ireland document demands that parents should have no right to send their children to a school run in accordance with their religious values. It insists that “religions should have no special financial consideration in public life, such as tax-free status for religious activities, or grants to promote religion or run faith schools”.

Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, the Labour Party and Sinn Féin have all refused to sign the controversial document.

The document also asserts that “the only reference in the constitution to religion should be an assertion that the State is secular”.

As well as the ban on State funding to cater for parents who want their children to have a faith-based education, the document asserts that “State education should be secular”.

“Religious education, if it happens, should be limited to education about religion and its absence,” according to the Atheist Ireland document.

It also demands that there should be “no faith formation in school hours”.

Mr Ryan told The Irish Catholic “I do accept that parents should have the option for a secular education for children but I would just as quickly defend the right of parents who do want a religious dimension in their children's school life.

“I believe the state should be willing and able to support such an approach. It is something that I prized in my own education and that I would like to see respected and continued,” he said.