Bill to end school baptism barrier discriminatory, Bruton says

Minister says legislation from Ruth Coppinger seeks ‘to move us to one type of school’

Minister for Education Richard Bruton. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times.

Minister for Education Richard Bruton. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times.

 

Legislation aimed at bringing about equality in school admissions would discriminate against rather than protect children from minority religions, Minister for Education Richard Bruton has said.

Mr Bruton on Tuesday night rejected the Equal Participation in Schools Bill introduced by Solidarity People Before Profit.

He claimed, as written, the legislation would “put a red line through schools” such as Educate Together or Gaelscoileanna.

The Bill amends part of the Education Act to delete the reference to the “characteristic spirit” of a school and replace it with “constitutional and human rights of all persons concerned”.

Mr Bruton said he fully recognised the need for change and he noted the increasing proportion of the population with no religion. The issue was the kind of change that was needed, he said.

The Minister said he believed “the need is to provide more choice and more diversity and that would be non-denominational and multi-denominational”.

But he said the Bill was designed “to move us to one type of school”.

Mr Bruton said different schools have a different characteristic spirit.

“You say your Bill will protect minority religions. I say the opposite,” he said. “If you want your child raised in the ethos of your religion you can’t do that under this Bill.”

Ethos

He said schools of a particular ethos would not be allowed to select from that ethos under the Bill. “I think that is discriminating against minority churches.”

The Minister agreed that it was unfair that a child of no denomination in a school catchment area is passed over in favour of a child with the school’s ethos but who comes from miles away.

The Minister also believed it was unfair that a parent should have to get their child baptised to be enrolled in a particular school. They had to move to a fairer method “in a way that doesn’t throw out everything that is good in our educational system”.

Moving the Equal Participation in Schools Bill, Solidarity People Before Profit TD Ruth Coppinger said Ireland was a State where it was legal to keep a child out of school on the basis on the religion of their parents or the lack of one.

She said 71 per cent of Irish people had said in a survey that church bodies should have less influence over schools. However, some 96 per cent of primary schools were church-controlled, she added.

Ms Coppinger said people of different religions worked and lived near each other but schools tended to segregate them.

Barriers

The Bill would abolish baptismal barriers and went further and also proposed that the curriculum would not be dominated by religion.

Ms Coppinger said there had been a decline in the number of people calling themselves Catholic, while there was a growth in other religions.

She said the reality was that since the 19th century the Catholic Church had opposed the introduction of a national school system in Ireland.

Cardinal Paul Cullen had said it was very dangerous and the aim was to introduce a mingling of Protestants and Catholics.

Fianna Fáil education spokesman Thomas Byrne said the legislation, like a lot of Solidarity People Before Profit measures, “goes way too far”.

He also criticised the Minister for delaying putting forward the “Fine Gael Government view”.

Mr Byrne said they had heard the opinions of every other stakeholder, but not the Minister’s.