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Just three TDs in Dáil for debate on school admissions

Fianna Fáil’s education spokesman calls quorum saying ‘the attendance here is pitiful’

Just three TDs were present in the Dáil for a debate on legislation to introduce greater transparency and fairness to school admissions. File photograph: Aidan Crawley/The Irish Times

Just three TDs were present in the Dáil for a debate on legislation to introduce greater transparency and fairness to school admissions on Wednesday.

During the late evening debate on the Education (Admission to Schools) Bill, Fianna Fáil called a quorum which requires 20 TDs to be present.

Fine Gael Minister for Education Richard Bruton and two Fianna Fáil TDs, the party’s education spokesman Thomas Byrne and chairwoman of the Oireachtas education committee Fiona O’Loughlin were the only deputies in attendance when Mr Byrne called the quorum.

He said he meant no disrespect to the Minister but “the attendance here is pitiful”.

After the quorum bells were rung, a number of Government Ministers, Fine Gael backbenchers and Fianna Fáil TDs attended as did a number of Sinn Féin and Independent deputies.

However, once proceedings got under way again all Fine Gael TDs left the chamber and Mr Bruton was left on his own until Minister of State Sean Kyne appeared about 20 minutes later and remained for the debate.

Introducing the legislation Mr Bruton said it “provides the opportunity to bring greater transparency and fairness into school admissions.

“It makes clear that every school must be welcoming to every young person regardless of their colour, abilities or disabilities.”

He said it would help to end what he called soft barriers that some schools erect in the way of children with special needs.

The Minister said they needed to put in place a better framework that emphasised transparency and consistency in school enrolment generally to give greater confidence to parents that the admissions criteria and procedures “are legitimate, reasonable and fair”.

The Bill would strengthen capacity to cater for a child who could not get a school place and this was particularly important for vulnerable and at-risk children, he said.

“The Bill will enshrine in law a ban on schools charging parents to apply for a place in school,” he said.

The Bill also “makes clear that every school must be welcoming of every child regardless of his or her colour, abilities or disabilities, or indeed, sexual orientation or membership of the Traveller community”.

And he said it would require schools to publish an admission policy which included details of a school’s arrangements for students who did not want to attend religious instruction.

“This is an important measure which will help ensure transparency from the outset as to how a school will uphold the rights of parents in this regard.”