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Altar-cation Teacher who had fight with caretaker over Virgin Mary statue says he'd do it again

"There’s only one regret I have - and that is daring to hope the Labour Court might do the right thing"

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Fachtna Roe tried to remove the statue.

Fachtna Roe tried to remove the statue.

Fachtna Roe tried to remove the statue.

A teacher who ended up in a tussle with a school caretaker over a statue of the Virgin Mary has said he’d do it again, despite losing a Labour Court appeal.

Teacher Fachtna Roe, a humanist and atheist, said he had been victimised when the statue was placed near his classroom despite previous objections.

While it sounds like a scene from Father Ted or Killinaskully, Mr Roe told the Sunday World: “There’s no humour about this.”

“I’ve always told young people ‘stand up for yourself, people will walk all over you’.”

Describing himself as “a Republican lefty”, when asked if he’d do it again, he replied: “Yes, absolutely. There’s only one regret I have - and that is daring to hope the Labour Court might do the right thing.”

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Mr Roe teaches at the Clonmel Technical Institute.

Mr Roe teaches at the Clonmel Technical Institute.

Mr Roe teaches at the Clonmel Technical Institute.

Mr Roe added that he is still considering whether or not to continue to pursue the issue through the courts.

He had previously objected to the holy statue being located in a similar position in 2012 and it was moved elsewhere.

The incident referred to in court happened in May 2015 at the

Clonmel Technical Institute, but the final decision by the Labour Court came just last month. It ruled Mr Roe had not been victimised.

He had told the court he attempted to remove the statue as he viewed it as victimisation and when caretaker Noel Lonergan intervened, a tussle and a heated exchange occurred.

Mr Lonergan, who has since retired, said he was shoved backwards, hit himself off an object and sustained minor injuries to his neck and hand.

He accepted that he was angry and stressed, and called Mr Roe “a disgrace”, for which he is apologetic, according to documents from the Labour Court.

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Fachtna Roe talks to our reporter Eamon Dillon.

Fachtna Roe talks to our reporter Eamon Dillon.

Fachtna Roe talks to our reporter Eamon Dillon.

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Another teacher who witnessed the incident was able to intervene and stop the row.

The statue had been set up by Mr Lonergan on a May altar as part of his duties as caretaker at the CTI.

Mr Roe had previously complained in 2012 over the May altar at the location after he stated he views the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary as a symbol associated with oppression, cruelty and humiliation of women and children.

He said the statue had caused him “offence and upset”.

After the 2015 incident he brought a case against the Tipperary Education and Training Board saying he was discriminated against, harassed and victimised on the grounds of religion.

He argued that the placement of the Blessed Virgin Mary statue in 2015 was done to make him feel inferior as a humanist in his place of work.

Mr Roe argued that the statue represents Roman Catholic dogma, and Humanists oppose dogma.

In 2014, ashes were distributed during one of Mr Roe’s classes on Ash Wednesday, as a result of which he lodged a complaint to the Equality Tribunal.

This saw a mediated settlement between the parties on April 27, 2015, just a few days before the May 1, 2015 incident with the Virgin Mary statue.

Mr Roe also argued at the Labour Court during a four-day virtual hearing that there is no place in a vocational school for religious dogma.

The school principal at the time, Charlie McGeever, who is now retired, told the court that a physical altercation between two members of staff was of “grave concern” to him.

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The Blessed Virgin was put on the May altar.

The Blessed Virgin was put on the May altar.

The Blessed Virgin was put on the May altar.

Mr Roe had been issued with a written warning which he didn’t appeal and no sanction was imposed on Mr Lonergan, according to the Labour Court ruling.

The institute argued that CTI is a multi-denominational school and has a Christian ethos, and that the May altar was a practice that has lasted for several decades.

In his determination, Deputy Labour Court chairman, Alan Haugh, found that Mr Roe had not been discriminated against, victimised or harassed.

He stated that Mr McGeever and Mr Lonergan did not show any ill-will towards Mr Roe in their evidence.

He said Mr Roe was asking the court to accept the principal and caretaker “conspired to place the May altar” in a location “for the purpose of causing distress and upset” to him.

He dismissed the harassment claim over the May 2015 altercation on the grounds it was Mr Roe who went to remove a religious symbol from view.

He said Mr Lonergan took the course of action he did to prevent Mr Roe from interfering with an expression of faith by other members of the school community in CTI.

Dismissing Mr Roe’s claim that he was a victim of harassment, Mr Haugh said the claim is based on a mistaken understanding and application of the section of the Employment Equality Acts.

The Labour Court ruling upholds a 2017 ruling by the Workplace Relations Commission that Mr Roe had not been harassed.

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