Bill would overturn law allowing religious ‘favouritism’ in schools

Social Democrats introduce legislation in Dáil seeking to end ‘baptism barrier’

Social Democrat TD Róisín Shortall at the launch of the Equal Status (Amendment) Bill 2017 at Leinster House, Dublin. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

Legislation has been introduced in the Dáil to end “one of the most discriminatory laws” on the Irish statute book.

Social Democrats TD Róisín Shortall said it was time to end “fundamentally unacceptable” legislation, which allows “blatant favouritism by the State of the rights of the religious over the rights of the child”.

She was introducing the Equal Status (Amendment) Bill to end the “baptism barrier” which permits oversubscribed schools to discriminate on the basis of religion in their admissions policy under the 2000 Equal Status Act.

Ms Shortall said “our laws should reflect the diversity of Irish society and respect the variety of belief systems that exist in the country”.


Religion played a deep and meaningful role in many people’s lives, she said. “The statute books should respect their beliefs but should not favour one belief system over another.”

“There is no place in a tolerant society for the kind of discrimination currently permitted under Section 7 (3) (c) of the Equal Status Act”.

She added that “if we saw such a law proposed by president Trump, by Marine le Pen, we’d be rightly appalled. Not one among us would fail to join the chorus of condemnation.”

The Social Democrats believed that the education system “should be designed with the interests of children at its heart – not the interests of religious groups. That is why we are bringing forward this Bill.”

The public, she said, “is tired of the procrastination of Government; the endless excuses; the distinct lack of courage at the heart of successive governments.”

The Social Democrats co-founder cited a wide range of civil society groups who favoured a move to end the “baptism barrier” including the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, the Children’s Rights Alliance, Educate Together and the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times