Plans to modernise chaplaincies at third level institutions have stagnated, despite major review

A 2015 review found several institutions had no public appointment or tendering procedure for the employment of chaplains.

THE NUMBER OF lay chaplaincy appointments in the higher education sector has remained static and the overall spend has increased despite recommendations in a 2015 review.

In 2015 then Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan asked the Higher Education Authority (HEA) to conduct a review of higher education institutions to determine existing chaplaincy arrangements across the sector.

Chaplaincies provide services such as pastoral care, illness or bereavement support and mental health support as well as spiritual services and retreats.

The review made a number of recommendations including ensuring value for money, making support services available to students of all faiths (and none) and compliance with public sector appointment criteria.

Several institutions had no public appointment or tendering procedure for the employment of chaplains. 

To address the availability of services to students of all faiths, the HEA had suggested at the time that the use of lay chaplains be considered. A lay chaplain is a representative of a religious institution who is not a cleric of that faith.


According to documents released under a Freedom of Information request, seen by, the HEA conducted a follow-up review last year to check on progress in implementing these recommendations.

Over the three years there was no change in the number of institutions that have a chaplaincy service (21 out of 24). There was, however a small increase in overall spend. In total, these institutions are paying more than €1.5 million a year for these services. 

The majority of funding comes from the HEA’s recurrent grant to the higher education institutions or the institute budget but other sources include the student contribution charge, non exchequer funding and funding by religious bodies.

In the case of Trinity College in Dublin, the college covers maintenance and running costs of two dedicated spaces on the campus for the chaplaincies, but the funding for the posts is paid by the respective denominations. 

Dublin Institute of Technology tenders for the chaplaincy services, with two Roman Catholic lay chaplains and two Church of Ireland chaplains. The contract for services costs are covered from the student charge. 

The cost of operating chaplaincy services at DIT for the 2016/2017 academic year was €244,586.

At Mary Immaculate College in Limerick, the chaplain also delivers three modules per academic year as a lecturer. The service, at a cost of €55,059 in the 2016/2017 academic year, is paid for from student contribution and fee income.

In its response to the 2018 review the college said there had not been a requirement to make an appointment in recent years but any future appointment would take place under normal public procurement rules. 

Tralee Institute of Technology told the 2018 review that it has a memorandum of understanding with the Bishop of Kerry to provide fulltime chaplaincy services. The college pays €44,636 from the student capitation fund, which all students are required to pay into. 

Lay chaplains

According to the HEA’s most recent review, there are more than twice the number of clerical than lay chaplains and this number has not changed since the 2015 review.

The denomination most represented is Catholic, with representations from the Church of Ireland, Presbyterian and Methodists faiths too. All institutions confirmed to the HEA that services were available to students of all faiths and none, but there are no clerical or lay chaplains of other faiths appointed by any of the chaplaincy services.

The details of the review were released by the HEA to John Hamill from The Free Thought Profit Podcast, who said the current set-up is “not practical” and the State should move away from religious arrangements in higher education institutions.

“Here in Ireland, our constitution allows public bodies to fund religious chaplaincy services, but Article 44.2.3 insists that those services must provide full equality for all beliefs,” he said. “In a country with more than 100 denominations, which is becoming even more diverse every year, this is simply not practical.”

He said Ireland needs an ‘establishment clause’, similar to the provision in the American constitution which forbids the US Congress from establishing a state religion. It also prevents the passage of any law that gives preference to any one religion.

“It would be much preferable if an Irish establishment clause required the State to step away from religious considerations, such that adult students and their churches can make their own arrangements,” Hamill said.

In a statement to, the HEA said it “routinely follows up on sectoral issues and specific issues such as this through a number of mechanisms including strategic dialogue, rolling reviews and surveys”.

“Surveys such as the one referenced and indeed the follow-up survey in 2018 are one of the HEA’s structured engagements with the sector,” a spokesperson said.

“Such engagements will continue in 2020, looking at efficiencies and value for money in the sector, and consideration is provided to all topics for review including the one raised.”

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.

    Leave a commentcancel