New bill takes aim at schools "baptism barrier"

Solidarity TD Ruth Coppinger says the current admission system in certain schools amounts to a form of "apartheid"

Anti-Austerity Alliance, People Before Profit, Ruth Coppinger, public sector pay, teachers

Ruth Coppinger at the launch of a common principles document between the Anti-Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit | Image:

Details of a new bill aimed at tackling the “baptism barrier” in Irish schools are being announced today.

The Solidarity party has launched its Equal Participation in Schools Bill – claiming it would stop discrimination on religious grounds and make the curriculum more “objective and pluralistic.”

Ahead of the launch, Solidarity TD Ruth Coppinger described the current situation - where oversubscribed schools can refuse to accept students if they are not baptised - as a form of "apartheid."

She said 24% of parents baptise their children solely to gain admission to schools and warned that it is completely unacceptable that taxpayer funded institutions are still allowed to carry out the practice.

“Parents are finding it impossible to access schools if their child has not been baptised,” said Deputy Coppinger.

“Equally important is the right to equal treatment and respect within the school day if you are not of the majority religion.

“All children should be treated equally and this is part of the process now of separating church and state.

“Tax payers fund these schools and there shouldn’t be a right to discriminate on the basis of religion.

Consultation process

Education Minister Richard Bruton launched a consultation process to examine the issue in January – pledging to deal with the problem in the lifetime of this government.

He said the process should take between 10 and 12 weeks - with legislative proposals due to be ready by June.

He outlined four different approaches under consideration, stressing that none were straightforward with each raising unique difficulties:

  • Instituting catchment areas into Irish education legislation for the first time
  • Introducing a 'nearest school rule' where schools could only give preference to children of a certain religion "where that child is the nearest school of that religion for that child"
  • Introducing a quota system, where a percentage limit would be placed on admissions for children of a specific religion
  • Introducing a full prohibition on publicly-funded schools from giving a preference to children based on religion

Separation of church and state

The proposals received a cautious welcome from a number of campaign groups although some warned the plan did not go far enough.

Deputy Coppinger has called the process "ridiculous," – as the four options up for discussion would see religious orders retain control of schools.

She said the establishment seems “very reluctant” to challenge schools over admission policies - despite census figures showing a reduction in the number of people who view themselves as religious.

“Even people who are practicing Catholics believe that this must change,” she said. “Schools should not be for faith formation, they should be for education.”

In addition to tackling the baptism issue, the Solidarity bill would aim to take lessons on faith formation outside of core school hours and make the curriculum more inclusive – by including sex education lessons dealing with LGBTQ+ issues, contraception and abortion.

The bill is up for debate in the Dáil tomorrow evening.