An Irish teaching union has said that equality laws allow religious schools to discriminate against gay teachers.

The deputy general secretary of the Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO), Noel Ward, said that an exemption for faith schools in employment equality laws means that they may sack a teacher who is “undermining” their religious ethos.

Section 37 of the Employment Equality Act allows faith schools to take “reasonably necessary” action to prevent an employee or prospective employee “from undermining” its religious ethos.

Mr Ward told the INTO congress that there was evidence gay teachers were being discriminated against solely because of their sexual orientation, rather than “undermining” school ethos in any other way.

He questioned how faith schools and priests who sat on the boards of such schools would react if a teacher registered his or her intention to have civil partnership and said teachers were being forced to hide their sexual orientation.

Mr Ward said: “How on earth can a teacher simply by being homosexual undermine a school’s ethos? What kind of weak, uncertain ethos is it that can be undermined just because we all know a teacher is gay or lesbian?”

The congress unanimously adopted a motion to deplore the exemption and demand its removal.