Minister for Education Richard Bruton has said his intention is religion will not be used as a criterion for pupil selection in the vast majority of schools.
He told the Seanad on Tuesday he was making a new provision whereby children who did not want to participate in religious instruction in a denominational school would have clear programmes.
“These will be stated in the admissions policy,’’ he added.
Generally, said Mr Bruton, his department’s policy had been not to provide for the growth of a very popular school that was growing rapidly, if there were empty places in neighbouring schools that were not so popular.
“The restriction has been based simply on the money available,’’ said Mr Bruton.
“We do not have the ability to build schools when there are empty places elsewhere.’’
The Minister was replying to Mayo Sinn Féin Senator Rose Conway-Walsh, who referred to the restriction in numbers in some Educate Together multidenominational schools.
She said some families were faced with the splitting up of siblings when it came to education.
She said a parent had told her of a child starting in an Educate Together national school and having a most enjoyable experience through the year.
However, the second child in the family was told there would not be a place if the numbers continued to be restricted.
“This simply does not make sense,’’ said Ms Conway-Walsh.
She said there was also the question of choice, both for parents who wanted their children to attend a school with a religious ethos and those preferring a non-denominational educational setting.
“Most of all, it is about obtaining clarity for parents,’’ said Ms Conway-Walsh.
“Without it, it will be impossible for them to make the proper choices about their children’s education.’’
Mr Bruton said there was a huge surge in demand for non-denominational schools, but it must be from a start where 95 per cent of schools were denominational.
“The State honours its commitment to provide free primary education through that structure,’’ he added.
Mr Bruton said the constitutional provision was that no child should be forced to take religion in their class.
“There is not a provision, however, which states every parent should get the school of their choice,’’ he added.
“Such a provision, unfortunately, would be unworkable.’’