Multi-denominational school patron Educate Together has criticised the Government's failure to stop State-funded religious schools from giving preference in admissions to children of one faith.
The organisation acknowledged that the Admission to Schools Bill, published this week, was “as a step forward for Irish education in clarifying the enrolment process”.
However, “Educate Together is very concerned that it does not address the issue of religious discrimination in access to schools, nor does there seem to be plans to remove Section 7 3 (c) of the Equal Status Act in the lifetime of this government”.
Chief executive Paul Rowe said: "The fact that an increasing number of Irish parents consider that it is necessary to get their children baptised in the Catholic faith in order to access publicly funded schools, rather than out of personal religious conviction, is a shocking alarm note for a modern democratic state."
Campaign groups the Humanist Association of Ireland and Atheist Ireland have also strongly criticised the protection of "Catholic first" admissions policies under the bill.
Asked why she hadn’t sought to amend Section 7, Minister for Educaiton Jan O’Sullivan said the Government had to operate “in the context of the Constitution and equality legislation”.
Educate Together said it had always contended that state-funded schools should not be allowed to discriminate on the basis of religion.
“Children of all religious, cultural and social backgrounds should be able to access all state-funded education. Educate Together is not aware of any situation in which such discrimination is necessary in order to maintain the ethos of a school,” the organisation said in a statement.
“If it is the case that the Government is constitutionally barred from eliminating discrimination in access to denominational schools, then the state must act to provide an alternative to the overwhelming monopoly of denominational schools in Ireland.”
The Catholic church is patron of 90 per cent of primary schools in the state. Only about 3 per cent of schools are not under a religious patron.
Mr Rowe said: “There are still large areas of the country where parents have no alternative but to send their children to denominational schools, and the proposed legislation does nothing to address this.”
He said Educate Together was working towards the day when every family could access an “equality-based school, such an Educate Together”, within 30 minutes travel time from their home.
“Genuine choice of school type that is compatible with the constitutional and human rights of all families can only be achieved if equality-based schools such as those provided under the Educate Together model are available all over Ireland,” Mr Rowe added.