Catholic schools have hit out at plans to remove the “Baptism barrier” for admissions which they say will discrimate against religious families.
Under plans announced on Wednesday by Minister for Education Richard Bruton, Catholic primary schools will not be able discriminate on the basis of religion in their admissions. policies.
However, minority faiths – such as the Church of Ireland – may continue to do in order to protect their ethos in cases where they are over-subscribed.
The educational office of the Catholic bishops last night (wed) said the move was unfair and will treat Catholic parents differently from all other faiths.
Ferdia Kelly, chief executive of the Catholic Schools Partnership, said the plans will not solve the problem of access to over-subscribed schools as no additional places are being provided.
Mr Kelly also expressed concern over the constitutionality of the measures which will be “examined carefully” by the sector.
The Church of Ireland’s board of education, by contrast, welcomed the plan which it said took account of concerns among minority faiths.
At present, oversubscribed schools are legally entitled to prioritise children of their own religion ahead of other children who live closer to the school.
This has become highly contentious, given that more than 90 per cent of primary schools remain under the patronage of the Catholic Church or other religious organisations.
Speaking at an Oireachtas education committee yesterday (Wed), Mr Bruton said he believed this system was unfair and putting some parents "under pressure to baptise their children in order to gain admission to their local school."
“I am seeking to be fair to all parents, while recognising the right of all schools to have their distinctive ethos,” he said.
The move will require a change to the Equal Status Act, which permits schools to discriminate on the basis of religion. Mr Bruton said he planned to do this “without delay”, but did not provide a time-table.
It is understood that while Mr Bruton has obtained preliminary legal advice on the move, any new legislation will need to be examined by the Attorney General.
Previous ministers argued that it was not possible to dismantle the “Baptism barrier” due to competing articles of the Constitution which both protect religion and protect against discrimation.