The Catholic diocese of Waterford and Lismore has said Amnesty International is not banned from its primary schools, despite a letter it sent out which appeared to imply otherwise.

Catholic primary schools in the diocese received a letter from diocesan advisers that stated that primary schools were "coming under increasing pressure to ban Amnesty International from addressing their pupils, given the organisation's support for the liberation [sic] of Ireland's abortion laws".

It went on to say that "any group campaigning for the legalisation of abortion, which is completely contrary to the Catholic ethos, does not have the right to visit a school and attempt to gain support for their cause".

The letter, which was sent to primary school principals at the start of the last school term, was interpreted by some school principals as an attempt to exclude Amnesty International from those schools.

A number of schools subsequently contacted the diocese looking for clarification. 

Read the letter (underlined by the original recipient) here.

The Bishop of Waterford and Lismore is patron of 99 Catholic primary schools in the region. 

The letter says the diocese has to ensure that any group invited into its schools reflect the Catholic ethos.

It says the Catholic ethos and the diocese's Religious Education policy are "the most important reference points" for school personnel, pupils and parents, when dealing with "difficult and sensitive situations". 

It lists inclusion, diversity, admissions policies and a proposed new programme on religious beliefs and ethics as "controversial issues" that schools are "challenged" to address.

The letter was sent by diocesan Catechetics Director, Sr Antoinette Dilworth.

She told RTÉ News the letter was sent "just to alert schools" to their responsibilities and Amnesty International was mentioned because of its stance on abortion, but there was no ban in place.  

Sr Antoinette added that the diocese did not ban any organisation from visiting schools.

Amnesty International has welcomed the clarification.

The organisation runs a variety of human rights education programmes for primary schools, and has worked with departments of education and teacher unions to develop material for use in classrooms.

It says thousands of Irish schoolchildren would have been involved this year in its 'Friendship Week' programme, which explores issues around international solidarity, inclusion, and diversity. 

The organisation says it does not bring its work on sexual reproductive rights into schools, and that all engagement is age and child appropriate.

Amnesty Executive Director Colm O'Gorman said the organisation welcomed the fact that the Diocese of Waterford and Lismore continued to support the delivery of internationally lauded human rights education programmes in Irish schools.