Bruton to propose end to school ‘baptism barrier’

Minister takes legal advice on ending religious discrimination in admission policies

Independent Senator Lynn Ruane who asked about  plans to lift the “baptism barrier’’ over admissions to Catholic primary schools.  Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Independent Senator Lynn Ruane who asked about plans to lift the “baptism barrier’’ over admissions to Catholic primary schools. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

 

Minister for Education Richard Bruton has said he will introduce “constitutionally robust proposals’’ to end religious discrimination in school admissions.

The Minister was replying in the Seanad on Thursday to Independent Senator Lynn Ruane who asked about his plans to lift the “baptism barrier’’ over admissions to Catholic primary schools.

He said it was wrong people should feel obliged to have their children baptised to gain admission to a school.

“It is wrong that children cannot get access to a local school and preference is given on religious grounds to children living a considerable distance away,’’ Mr Bruton added.

He said he was consulting the Attorney General on the issue, adding it might be possible to introduce the “baptism barrier’’ proposal by way of amending the existing Education (Admissions) Bill rather than introduce a separate bill.

Eighty per cent of schools did not now use religion for admissions and that would become law under the Bill, he said. “It will no longer be legal, where a school is not oversubscribed, to exclude a child on the basis of religion,’’ he added.

The Government proposed that for the remaining 20 per cent religion would not be used as a bar, except to protect minority churches and to ensure the school’s ethos would not be threatened.

“That is already provided for in equal status legislation,’’ he added.

He said, under his proposals, effectively religion would not be used in 95 per cent of schools.

Ms Ruane said as Ireland continued to become a more secular and pluralist society, it was vitally important the State acknowledged and vindicated the fundamental equality of every child, irrespective of race, socio-economic status and, in this case, religion.

“Equality cannot be fully realised while we allow State schools to discriminate in their admissions policies based on religious denomination,’’ Ms Ruane added.

“Therefore, the baptism barrier needs to go.’’