Time for fair admissions to our primary schools is long overdue

Unwillingness to change the terms of the Equal Status Act that allows intake preference to be given to baptised children suggests a failure of political nerve

 

The Department of Education should adopt a uniform approach to its admission policy for denominational and other national schools. The current practice does not accord with a constitutional provision that prohibits discrimination on the grounds of religious profession, belief or status. Under the Equal Status Act of 2000, however, schools under religious patronage are specifically allowed to give preference to children of the relevant denomination. In a State-funded and regulated system, where 90 per cent of national schools are controlled by the Catholic Church, that clause has led to the exclusion of children from local schools.

A further grievance arises from the Department’s insistence that Educate Together schools, offering multi-denominational and non-denominational education, should operate a local intake policy. Because of the limited number of such schools, parents from outside the area, whose children have not been baptised feel aggrieved. Legislation, now before the Dáil, suggests that Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan and her officials are unwilling to change the terms of the Equal Status Act that allows intake preference to be given to baptised children. That represents a failure of political nerve.

Former minister for education Ruairí Quinn spoke of removing half of all primary schools from Catholic Church control in order to meet a growing demand for multi-denominational and non-denominational education and ending discrimination against migrant children. It ended badly. A handful of schools changed hands and the Catholic Church continued to control nearly all schools. Fr Brendan Hoban of the Association of Catholic Priests put it bluntly yesterday: If “Atheist Ireland” wished to provide a choice, it would have to build the necessary schools.

This issue is about fairness and equal access. A demand for multi-denominational and nondenominational education is growing. Some 12 per cent of the school-going population is “new Irish”. An egalitarian national school policy is required.

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