The new Government has announced plans to open 400 additional non-denominational and multi-denominational schools by 2030.
At present The Catholic Church still has a tight grip on education in this country with 90pc of Ireland’s schools under their control. These schools are legally entitled to refuse to admit children from different religions.
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child said recently that Ireland’s international human rights obligations require the Government to end the religious discrimination in school admissions; and to provide more multi-denominational schools.
The recent abolition of Rule 68 of the Rules for National Schools, which required that religion “inform and vivify the whole work of the school”, was a step in the right direction.
Gavin O’Brien from the Department of Education said the new Government was committed to increasing access to non-Catholic schools.
“The new Programme for Government, the incoming Government, contains a commitment to strengthen parental choice in this area, and to increase diversity of school type.
“And there is an explicit commitment that by 2030, there will be 400 additional non-denominational and multi-denominational schools in Ireland.
“A road map has been agreed for a phased transfer of Catholic schools to new patrons, where the support of communities exists.
“We will work with all stakeholders to facilitate this process whilst also considering new approaches such as the potential of different patrons on a single site.
Children’s rights organisation EQUATE welcomed the announcement, but said that urgent action is required to implement the plan.
EQUATE Director Michael Barron said:
“These commitments are a real opportunity for a strong and comprehensive reform plan to tackle religious discrimination in our schools.
“For this opportunity to be realised the Government needs to act now. Education reform takes time and the new Minister needs to move urgently so that it can become reality for families and children around the country.”
“It is vital that the new bill reform Section 7.3 (c) of the Equal Status Act which allows school admission policies to religious discriminate against children. If we truly want an admission policy that is transparent and fair, then this law must be reformed.”
Responding to the governments plans, Education Equality Chair April Duff said:
“The last Universal Periodic Review in 2011 was scathing of Ireland’s failure to provide a level playing field within the education system for families of all religions and none.
“It is a shocking indictment of the Irish State that it explicitly rejected the UPR recommendations with respect to achieving religious equality within our schools, while accepting, or partially accepting, the overwhelming majority of the remaining recommendations.
“Ireland’s demographic makeup with respect to religious affiliation is changing fast, and the status quo in our schools, where children from non-religious and minority religious families are discriminated against on a daily basis, simply cannot be allowed to continue.”