By Susan Gately - 06 January, 2018
The lack of school places in primary schools is due to the government’s inability to identify geographical areas of rapid growth, according to Maria Steen BL of the Iona Institute, and the lifting of the so-called ‘baptism ban’ will not remedy the situation.
“There has been an abysmal failure on the part of this Government to identify areas of rapid growth and provide school places, and there’s no excuse for them trying to pass the buck to the churches, and particularly the Catholic Church.,” she said. “They’ve been hiding behind the Catholic Church’s schools for long enough. It is the minister’s duty to provide schools, not the Catholic Church’s.”
Education Minister Richard Bruton, is seeking to prohibit Catholic primary schools from giving enrolment priority to baptised children in cases where they are oversubscribed.
Ms Steen’s comments came following the release of documents to the Irish Times under the Freedom of Information Act showing submissions made to the government in April 2017 opposing the lifting of the baptism barrier. These came from the Catholic bishops, trustee bodies for thousands of Catholic schools, management bodies and missionary groups.
The submission by the Catholic Primary Schools Management Association (CPSMA) said the Minister’s plan was part of a secularisation agenda aimed mainly at the Catholic Church, and warned that the process might “open the State to a multiplicity of civil suits by those parents who wish to retain a Catholic faith ethos of their children”.
Such steps, it said, would conflict with the constitutional protections for parents and religious schools. “If the substance of the proposal is to effectively preclude parents in violation of their conscience from sending a child to a school of their choice, it would be very difficult to uphold the constitutionality of such a legislative choice,” it stated.
The submission from the Association of Trustees of Catholic Schools said the proposals would seriously undermine the ability of Catholic schools to promote a living faith environment. “In short, the present proposal appears to be part of a process of encroachment on parental rights, property rights and the capacity of faith schools to provide a faith-based education for those who opt for same.”
On Thursday, Education Minister Richard Bruton, reiterated that he would be pressing ahead with his plans to remove the “Baptism barrier” through the Education (Admission to Schools) Bill) except “where it was necessary for a child of a minority [religion / denomination] to get access to a school.” He underlined that great care would be taken in drafting the legislation to ensure it would not be open to judicial challenge.
However according to a submission from the Ombudsman for Children’s Office, also cited in the Irish Tmes, allowing minority faiths to use religion as a condition of entry would mean some children end up being treated differently so the use of [any] religion as a criteria for entry to schools should be abolished.
“This provision would create further discriminatory provisions between children of different religions and none,” the Ombudsman’s submission states. “A Catholic child seeking admission to a Church of Ireland school would be treated differently to a Church of Ireland student seeking admission to a Catholic school. A child of no religion would face different treatment if seeking admission to a Catholic school or a minority faith school,” it said.
The problem of over subscription of schools applies in particular to schools on a belt around the rapidly developing periphery of Dublin and in South Dublin..