Bruton insists minority religion schools require protection

The Education Minister has admitted to treating Catholic pupils differently to those of other faiths

Bruton insists minority religion schools require protection

File photo, the Minister for Education Richard Bruton, 29-05-2017. Image: Leah Farrell/RollingNews

The Minister for Education has admitted to treating Catholic pupils differently to those of other faiths.

Minister Richard Bruton yesterday announced plans which will effectively ban Catholic schools from discriminating against non-Catholic pupils.

The plan aims to remove the so-called ‘baptism barrier’ by banning many Catholic schools from choosing pupils on the basis of their faith.

The plan has come in for a level of criticism as it will not extend to all religious run schools – with minority-faith institutions allowed to use religion a selection criteria in certain circumstances.

Schools that are not over-subscribed will not be allowed to use religion as a selection criteria in any circumstance.

On Newstalk Breakfast this morning, Minister Bruton said the distinction is necessary:

“If you applied the same rule to Catholic schools, if you simply said to a minority school - say a Church of Ireland school - that they must admit everyone from their local area and not use religion as a criteria, [...] in many parts of the country you would no longer have a Church of Ireland school,” he said.

“So that is why you have to treat minorities different.”

He warned that applying the same criteria to all schools across the board would see minority institution “overrun.”

Currently in Ireland minority religious schools account for approximately 6% of Ireland’s primary schools – the vast majority of which are Church of Ireland run – while multi-denominational schools account for less than 4%.

In a statement, the Department of Education noted that "In very rare scenarios where due to unique demographic circumstances (for example among Border communities with majority non-Catholic populations) Catholic schools find their ethos under threat, it is intended that they will be able [...] to continue to use religion as a criterion in admissions, if they are oversubscribed."

Responding to the announcement, Educate Together spokesperson Emer Nowlan said the proposals represent a positive step forward but warned that more needs to be done:

“No state-funded school should be allowed to discriminate against children on the basis of their religious background,” she said. “There are questions about whether the changes will go far enough but for now I think we have to welcome any change in this area as positive.”

She said the organisation is looking forward to seeing further details of the plan – and called for the state to provide greater access to different types of schools.

“In Educate Together, demand for our schools is increasing more and more quickly ever y year.

“These parents don’t want access to religious schools, so I suppose alongside these changes the minister also needs to sanction more Educate Together schools to meet demand.”

The Catholic Church currently controls around 90% of the country's state-funded schools.