Ministers ask Bruton to reconsider ‘baptism barrier’ plans
Move aims to ensure children from non-religious backgrounds are not discriminated against
Minister for Education Richard Bruton said he was in listening mode in relation to school admissions reforms. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Minister for Education Richard Bruton has been asked by Fine Gael TDs and Senators to re-examine his plans to deal with the “baptism barrier” in school admissions.
Government Ministers Charlie Flanagan and Heather Humphreys backed calls for Mr Bruton to re-examine aspects of a Bill which could oblige religious schools to prioritise local children over pupils of their own religion living farther away.
Mr Bruton earlier this year announced plans to remove the so-called baptism barrier from schools to ensure children from non-religious backgrounds are not discriminated against in school admissions policies.
Fine Gael TDs Colm Brophy and Peter Burke and Senator Neale Richmond brought a motion to the Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting seeking further discussion on the proposed legislation.
Mr Brophy and Mr Richmond said the Bill could have unintended implications for minority religious groups, particularly Protestants. Mr Richmond asked Mr Bruton to meet the leaders of individual groups to ensure there was no perception of discrimination.
His proposal was seconded by Ms Humphreys, who urged her Cabinet colleague to engage directly with minority religious groupings and warned of unintended consequences for certain schools.
Mr Flanagan told the meeting the proposed legislative changes could be viewed as a threat to the Protestant identity.
He said such discussions could potentially have an impact on the political deadlock in Northern Ireland.
Publicly-funded schools which are oversubscribed may currently prioritise children of their own religion ahead of other children who live closer.
Mr Brophy said he was not in favour of retaining the status quo but believed the current Bill could inadvertently do damage.
Mr Bruton told the meeting he was in listening mode and had made no decision yet. He said he wanted all changes to be balanced, fair and protective of all traditions.