‘Baptism barrier’ and schools


A chara, – Every Irish child has the right to education in their religion. This is true for those of all faiths and none. The failure of previous governments to ensure this right was vindicated for all does not excuse the current government’s attempt to target Catholic schools.

I cannot see how selectively stripping Catholic children of their right to a Catholic education will lead to a fairer, more equal society. Leaving aside the dangerous implications of the State singling out a religious group for punishment, if children from religious minorities are unable to find a school place, then surely the answer is to build more schools – not to take away the hard-won civil rights of others. – Is mise,




Sir, – While the numbers of families who want the option of a non-denominational school is increasing, the status quo, with up to 90 per cent of primary schools under the patronage of Catholic Church, may still suit the majority once they can access the school of their choice.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin has been a voice of reason in trying to achieve a solution that both accommodates choice for parents while allowing others to access a school with a Christian ethos.

School divestment by the Catholic Church whenever possible must be part of any solution, and I have no doubt that many people of faith would welcome the opportunity to send their children to a school that genuinely lived up to its Christian ethos. But this will only be possible when communities respect difference and come together to find imaginative solutions that work for everyone. – Yours, etc,


Templeogue, Dublin 16.

Sir, – School patronage is the practice of subsidiarity where the Government places responsibility for our national schools in the hands of interested groups called patrons. There are at least 15 patrons of primary schools in Ireland. The baptism barrier seems to be the present flashpoint where a patron tells the Government what it can and cannot do without a legal battle. Wait until the other patrons start flexing their “agenda” muscles. I wonder what their issues will be in the future?

Meanwhile the Government continues to abrogate its responsibilities, established by the European Courts in the Louise O’Keeffe case (2014), repeating the mistakes of the past by recognising a plethora of disparate patrons and handing over its responsibility for its national schools to them. – Yours, etc,


Dunsany, Co Meath.

Sir, – The threatened legal action by Catholic education groups in the event that the “baptism barrier” is removed has as much to do with maintaining baptism rates as it has to do with education.

A report for the archdiocese of Dublin shows weekly Mass attendance, the core obligation of a practising Catholic, is in serious decline, and is expected to be of the order of 15 per cent in 2018. Confession is almost a thing of the past, and civil marriages now account for over 30 per cent of all marriages

In contrast, the same report shows a continued good correlation between baptism rates and birth rates. However, the report states “this is likely to be due to the preference given to children who have been baptised when enrolling in Catholic primary schools. If this requirement is removed we believe there is likely to be a decline in the number of baptisms each year”.

Furthermore “we assume that if a child is baptised, they will also make their Holy Communion and confirmation, as these form part of the curriculum of Catholic primary schools”.

Already there is anecdotal evidence that in some areas up to 20 per cent of children are baptised simply to get them into the local public school, which happens to be a Catholic school. This might give an indication of the level of reduction in baptisms if the “baptism barrier” is removed. There will also be substantial reductions in communion and confirmations. The overall effect will be a reduction in the size and influence of the Catholic Church.

The question for the Minister is can the State continue to fund the well-being of any religious denomination by allowing school admission regulations that are specifically intended to ensure the well-being of a religion, such as the “baptism barrier” does for the Catholic Church.

Surely the well-being of the Catholic religion is a matter for the Catholic Church, not the State?

And surely the Minister has an obligation to ensure equal rights of access for the children of all citizens of this State to their local publicly funded school? – Yours, etc,


Portmarnock, Co Dublin.

Sir, – “Oversubscription” occurs in either of two situations: where there are not enough school places in a given area for the number of children; or where there are enough places overall but parents’ perception is of one school being more desirable for their child than another.

In the first instance it is clearly the responsibility of the Minister for Education to deal with the problem. In the second instance, if the Minister is to be believed, there is a problem only if the school happens to have a Catholic ethos.

Would it not be worth considering if the fact that the school in question has such an ethos might be a contributing factor to parental perception of its “superiority” as an educational establishment, even if they are neutral about the value of religion generally, and if so, does this have any implications for where the Minister’s efforts might be applied? – Yours, etc,



Dungarvan, Co Waterford.

Sir, – The problem is the lack of places for children in primary schools in certain areas. This problem will not go away by partially lifting the “baptism barrier”, but it will change which child is refused a place. If the numbers don’t change, the problem does not go away. – Yours, etc,


Lucan, Co Dublin.