Children in Ireland who are actively practicing Catholicism are being targeted by school bullies, according to a report heard by an Oireachtas committee.
The Catholic religion is well established in Ireland but its influence on people’s lives has declined over the past couple of decades.
Although 80% of Irish people still stated their religion as Catholic on the 2016 census report, it is believed that many of those do not actively practice their religion but rather simply see it as a traditional part of Irish culture.
The news that practicing Catholic children are being bullied is a great concern and the report was heard by the Oireachtas committee on Education.
Professor James O’Higgins Norman studied research from the DCU Anti-Bullying Centre and found that children who were practicing Catholics could be viewed as ‘old fashioned’ and ‘out of the mainstream culture’.
He said: “In addressing that we need to promote understanding of difference, that difference is the norm and a good thing, and no two kids are the same.”
There is a concern that bullying, in all its forms, can have a serious negative impact on the victim’s mental health.
The committee heard that physical appearance is the number one reason an individual may be singled out by bullies, but other characteristics included religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation and wealth.
Professor O’Higgins Norman said: “It is well established in research that negative childhood experiences have a negative effect on the development of a child, particularly when the bullying is related to identity. Our research shows that school principals understand and recognise this.”
Currently there are only 51% of schools that have a specific staff member responsible for investigating and tackling cases of bullying.
The DCU report highlighted the need for a better system of reporting and dealing with incidents of bullying in schools.
A national database of cases and the actions taken by schools is one possibility so teachers and students can learn from the experiences of others.
Prof O’Higgins Norman is a supporter of the database and said that “having good quality data allows us to make informed decisions about the initiatives that we use and about how effective they are”.
It is also likely that the database would be confidential to prevent the identities of the parties involved being public and having impacts on attendance and academic performances.
The study also found that face-to-face bullying was the number one method, although cyber-bullying is also something that teachers, parents and students must be aware of and educated in.