State funding for private schools should be "phased out over time", the Labour party says.
There has been a renewed debate on the future of fee-charging schools in Ireland recently.
Opinion polls show Sinn Féin as the most popular party in the country - and that party’s pledged to end public subsidies to private schools if they get into Government.
Last year, private schools received around €111 million in State funding a year, with the vast majority of that going towards teacher and SNA salaries.
Those schools receive fewer State-funded teachers than public schools, with a larger pupil to teacher ratio.
The Irish Times reported this week that private schools are concerned they would potentially have to double their annual fees if their State funding was withdrawn - with some warning that could lead to a UK-style, ‘more elite’ private sector.
Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Labour’s education spokesperson, told On The Record that the current model around private schools is one of several aspects of Irish education he believes we need to question.
He said: “We have to ask ourselves why we have 4,000 schools in a country with a population the size of Manchester. We have a huge number of schools.
“We are obsessed traditionally with separating children on the basis of religion, gender and income. I don’t really see how that benefits children.
“We just seem to carry on with what has been passed down through generations. I find that frustrating.
“I think everybody assumes the Irish education system is grand and doesn’t really need to change. But for many people [the system] does fail them.
Deputy Ó Ríordáin said he understands the motivation of parents who do choose a private school, but he believes we should be looking at education "as the great enable of every young person".
However, he doesn't believe the State funding of fee-charging schools should end in one single swoop.
He observed: “We can easily make a grandstanding decision that we’d withdraw funding overnight. That’s not realistic.
"What we’d like to do is phase it out over a period of time.
"[Private schools] do have a disproportionate impact on Irish education policy."
He suggested ending the funding wouldn't just immediately make €111 million in funding available - suggesting some of the schools would likely have to be brought under the general public system, meaning extra costs for the State.
However, he said this would all be part of changing the financial relationship between parents and schools more generally - saying parents also shouldn't have to pay for voluntary contributions or school books.