THE President of Letterkenny Institute of Technology (LYIT) has refused to be drawn on claims by Atheist Ireland that it’s spending on chaplaincy services “is sectarian, misogynist and unconstitutional.”
Mr Paul Hannigan was reacting to comments by a spokesperson for the organisation after it emerged LYIT spent €68,000 on a Catholic (€50,000), Presbyterian and Church of Ireland (€9,000 each) chaplains in the 2013/2014 term.
The information, obtained from colleges under the Freedom of Information Act by Atheist Ireland, showed that LYIT had the second highest spend in the country.
A spokesman for the organisation, which claims to promote ‘atheism, reason and an ethical, secular State’, also stated the college only has one counsellor who provided services to 213 students during the last term, more than the three chaplains combined.
Mr John Hamill said there is no indication how many students attended daily Mass, while figures from other colleges around the country showed only a handful were turning up.
“The counsellor is appointed based on selecting the best possible candidate for the students while the full-time chaplain is a Catholic priest, appointed purely at the discretion of the bishop,” he said.
“The Roman Catholic chaplain administers the Student Assistance (hardship) Fund in the college. There’s no indication why students must speak to a Catholic priest in order to access this fund. We believe that this model of spending public money is sectarian, misogynist and unconstitutional.”
Mr Hamill made no reference to the performance or appointment of the Protestant ministers at LYIT.
Speaking to the Donegal News, Mr Hannigan refused to be drawn on Mr Hamill’s “sectarian and misogynist” comments.
However, he stressed that the college has three Chaplains and that all of them provide pastoral care to all students, regardless of faith.
“We have an excellent chaplaincy service and are very happy with its operation,” he said.
Mr Hannigan explained that the Students Assistance Fund was established by the government back in 2002, as a response to students who were experiencing financial hardship while attending third level college.
“An annual allocation is given to all third level colleges by the Higher Education Authority (HEA), calculated on their student numbers. Each year LYIT receives on average €130,000 from the HEA which helps support approximately 400 students throughout the year.”
As per guidelines set out by the HEA, he added, LYIT has a Students Assistance Fund committee, comprising of the Access and Lifelong Learning Co-ordinator, the Chaplain and the Student Welfare Officer. This committee meets regularly and interviews students who are looking for financial help and makes recommendations to the Registrar and the Secretary Financial Controller for approval.
“Students may get funding to help them with a wide range of expenditure they incur, including travel expenses, food, books, etc. “Students have reported back to us that this fund has been an essential part of the overall student support that they receive while they are attending LYIT.”
According to the documents obtained by the organisation, the Catholic chaplain assisted with requests for financial assistance from the Student Assistant Fund last year and the Access Office paid out €172,597.
He provided additional financial assistance and advice to 44 students at a total spend of €12,805. Seven students have repaid a total of €1,115 to the Chaplain.
Atheist Ireland is campaigning against the use of public funds to hire members of clergy at a time of cutbacks to the higher education sector.
The costs and recruitment processes involved are at the centre of an investigation ordered last year by outgoing Minister for Education, Jan O’Sullivan.
A spokesman for the HEA, which is carrying out the investigation, confirmed that it is finalising the report but declined to comment further.
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