‘Baptism barrier’ and access to school places


Sir, – Seán Ó Díomasaigh (January 5th) correctly highlights the current patronage system as a major problem. The patron’s priorities are not to the school, but to the hierarchy it serves and the schools assets, usually paid by the taxpayer and the local community, can be sold off at a whim. Surely it is madness to allow publicly funded schools to be gifted to private bodies with an appalling record in child protection and welfare?

A alternative would be for the local community to create a school district, which could be the patron of all the schools within the catchment area. The board could be made up of educators, parents and other candidates that get elected at the AGM. Enrolment could be managed by the school district with parent specifying a school preference. Having a single umbrella organisation to run all schools in a community would have additional benefits: common HR and administration services, shared resources (for example, sporting facilities, school buses, special needs assistants, foreign language classes) and savings though economies of scale. – Yours, etc,



Co Wicklow.

Sir, – The prophets of doom are predicting a hostile confrontation between church and state in the matter of admissions to faith schools.

I doubt if that will be necessary. May I offer a pragmatic solution to the problem – from Malaysian Borneo? Our mission school was in great demand by Buddhists, Muslim, Christians, and others. Our enrolment policy was “First come first served”.

But to ensure that our Christian children were not excluded, we made frequent church announcements and visits to families to urge early enrolment. As Christian educators we saw this as our pastoral right and duty.

It meant, of course, that some of our Christian families “missed the cut” – and had to take responsibility for this.

But our experience was that the parents who ignored our invitation were the least likely to follow through on their faith commitments.

In this system the onus was squarely on our pastoral leaders and Christian parents to shepherd the flock while adhering to the principle of equal educational opportunity for all. During my stint as school supervisor, I never heard the system questioned, perhaps because we had a transparent enrolment procedure.

In this State’s system, this arrangement could easily be made a statutory procedure – by, for example, early periodic posting of enrolments already registered.

The two principles are clear enough: equality of educational opportunity for all; and the right and duty of Church to nurture the faith and sense of community of its young people. But the truth is that there is no system that can relieve people of personal responsibility. Hence the need for some kind of pragmatic solution. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 6.

Sir, – I am a parent who has experienced my child’s rejection from multiple local schools solely due to their lack of Catholicism. I am angered by the defence of this blatant discrimination by some contributors to this debate, who blame among other things a shortage of school places.

A shortage of school places cannot be used to justify discrimination. We would not accept this stance in any other walk of life. Much like our schools we also have hospitals with Catholic patronage that coincidently are short of places. I think we could all imagine the outrage if these hospitals proposed that they would decide what patients they would accept based on religion due to a “shortage of places”.

As our society becomes more and more diverse, it is simply unfair to have a system in which we have a different school for everyone, as some have suggested. Every town cannot have a Catholic school, a Church of Ireland school, a Hindu school, a Jewish school, a Muslim school, a non-religious school, etc, and so some children will always lose out. The only logical way to deal with this is to have a system in which no child is treated unequal to the next based on discriminatory grounds.

As we live in a republic, public institutions must be for all citizens equally and, as such, schools must not be allowed to discriminate against non-religious applicants. I would not stand in the way of different faiths setting up their own schools, but if they wish to make such a school exclusive to their faith, then they cannot have their school funded fully from the public purse. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 16.

Sir, – To date, the State has wiggled out of its responsibilities to its citizens by subsidising groups under a theory of subsidiarity to provide basic services such as healthcare, education and the care of unmarried mothers and their children. We don’t have to look far to see the failure in human terms of such a practice .

We now have to move forward and demand that the State provides for its citizens on a rights- based foundation. The Minister for Education’s plans to remove the “baptism barrier” for entry to a limited number of primary schools is a move in this direction. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

Sir, – Does every Irish child have a right to education by practitioners of their specific faith? Surely not, as we would then have to provide schools for every religion on the planet, however obscure.

But it prompts the question of what is a Catholic education when if is applied to say Maths or German or history.

Is there a Muslim, atheistic, Protestant or Buddhist way to teach English, physics or chemistry?

Would a more coherent and egalitarian system be for the State to provide funding for schools and let children be separately educated outside the State system in their particular creed or religion by whatever means their parents or church deemed sufficient? – Yours, etc,



Co Galway.