In February the government stated it had no plans to hold a referendum on the 2012-2014 Convention on the Constitution’s recommendation that the government replace the blasphemy law with a provision to make incitement to religious hatred an offense.
In December the Equality (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill was passed, altering the Employment Equality Act by stripping exemptions from state run institutions. By law, a school with a religious patron was previously allowed to select its staff based on the patron’s religious beliefs. The changes meant members of the LGBTI community, divorcees, single parents, and persons of another religion working in schools and hospitals under religious patronage could no longer be treated differently to maintain the religious ethos or the standards and traditions of the institution.
NGOs continued to call on the government to pass hate crime legislation that would include religiously based hate crimes. The NGOs noted the country was the only Western democracy without specific hate crime legislation, leaving a “massive gap between the records and the reality” for minority groups. The Irish Council for Civil Liberties, a civil society group, published a report, “Out of the Shadows: Legislating for Hate Crime in Ireland,” by researchers at the University of Limerick which found hate crime was underreported and underrecorded. According to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, two anti-Semitic cases were reported in 2014, the latest statistics available.
In December the government announced an update of the PULSE (Police Using Leading Systems Effectively) system used by the Garda (national police) to log crimes. The update allows for the specific recording of hate crimes, including anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic crimes.
The government permitted, but did not require, religious instruction in public schools. Although religious instruction was part of the curriculum of most schools, parents could exempt their children from such instruction.
A multidenominational group called Educate Together operated a network of 77 primary schools. It opened its first four secondary schools in 2014 with more expected in 2016. These schools accepted pupils on a “first come, first served” basis, without regard to religion or locality.
In 2011, the government recommended that some Catholic primary schools become nondenominational schools in 25 out of 43 areas across the country. Since then the Catholic Church has divested eight schools to Educate Together; two are in buildings vacated by a Catholic-run state-funded school, while the other six received no buildings from the Church but have since acquired some.
School “patrons,” generally affiliated with religious denominations, continued to define the “ethos” of the schools and determine the development and implementation of religious education curriculum in primary schools. The curriculum could vary by school and could include teaching about the patron’s religion, the religious history of Ireland, or an overview of world religions. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has held the exemptions procedures for minority and nonfaith students to religious instruction must not unduly burden the parents and students. In one case during the year, the principal of a secondary school in Limerick refused to allow a student to opt out of religious education. Although Minister of Education Jan O’Sullivan confirmed parents had a constitutional right to decide whether their children attend religious education classes, the student was required to remain in the classroom while the subject was taught.
Parents of nonbaptized children reported difficulty in accessing places in some local overenrolled religiously based schools. In rural areas it was reportedly especially difficult to find alternatives to schools with Catholic patrons. In October the father of a Hindu family in Dublin, which had difficulty getting their four-year-old child enrolled in a local school, organized a protest attended by up to 200 calling on the government to end religious discrimination in access to local schools. One school cited its enrollment policy was to prioritize based on five categories, the first being religion. Parents of the school’s students questioned this policy in a letter to the minister of education, minister of justice and equality, and the archbishop of Dublin. Both ministers responded, stating schools had a legal right to set their enrollment policies.
In November a municipal employee was sentenced to 100 hours of community service for sending anti-Semitic emails to then-Minister for Justice and Defense Alan Shatter, who is Jewish. During the early stages of the police investigation the municipal worker cited his right to free speech and said it was a political matter.
Several state agencies, including the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and the Garda’s Racial and Intercultural Office (GRIO), enforced equality legislation and worked on behalf of minority religious groups. The GRIO’s liaison officers met and engaged with immigrant minority religious groups on a regular basis to inform them of police services and their rights, as well as to support integration through involving members of ethnic minority communities in community social events.
The government is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.