Parents shouldn't be 'forced to baptise their children' to get into school - minister
Parents should not feel "forced to baptise their children" in order to get into a particular school, the Education Minister has told the Herald.
Minister Jan O'Sullivan said that she would like to see the system changed so that parents can no longer be asked if their children are baptised before they can enrol in certain schools.
She was responding to Archbishop Diarmuid Martin's comments that Catholic children have a right to be first in the queue for school places at Catholic schools.
Archbishop Martin, who is patron of 470 primary schools in Dublin, also suggested the real problem was "a lack of places".
However, Minister O'Sullivan rejected this explanation, and insisted there were sufficient places for every child in the country.
"Only about a fifth of schools are oversubscribed," she said.
"So it's only an issue in one fifth of schools because if a school has places, even if you're not of the same religious denomination of the school, they still have to take you."
Minister O'Sullivan said that her hands were tied in terms of forcing schools in buildings belonging to the Catholic Church to accept children who were not baptised.
But she said that parents shouldn't feel that they need to baptise their children, simply to give them access to education in a certain school. "I'm particularly uncomfortable about the idea that people feel forced to baptise their children [in order to get into a particular school]," she told the Herald.
"I don't think anyone should feel forced to baptise their children, if it is not something that they want.
"And I don't think the churches wants that either.
"In effect, some parents feel that that's the pressure they are under. There is a place for every child in the country, maybe not in the school of their parents' choice," she added.
"If you can't get into a particular school, you should be able to get into a school that isn't too far away from you."
Minister O'Sullivan said that the legislation, dating back to the 1990s, allows schools and hospitals to protect their ethos, but she said that Ireland was changing.
"I don't have the legal power to say to schools that if you are not baptised or not part of that particular religion that they don't have to take you in," she said.
"It is legislation that comes from the Department of Justice and Equality. There are no proposals to change it, but I think it is an issue that needs to be debated and discussed in the next government in view of how Ireland has changed.
"I think Ireland is changing so much now that certainly I would like to be part of discussions about how we can change that."
The Labour TD for Limerick said that ideally schools should be able to prioritise children from their locality, rather than based on their religion.
"I think children should be able to go to a school in their own area," she said.
"I think certainly we should move towards geographical prioritisation.
"Particularly with new schools, we can say that you must prioritise children from that area over children of that ethos outside the area.
"The problem is with schools who have been there for decades, or for 100 years, we don't have the power to insist with those schools.
"I believe we do need to prioritise more options and more choices," she added.
"Parental choice has driven this, but parental choice is changing."
The Minister said that before the Department decide on a particular patronage of a school, there is a survey carried out to prioritise a school with an ethos that doesn't have representation in that area.
The Admissions to Schools Bill, which the Minister is bringing to the Oireachtas in the autumn, will give more clarity and transparency to parents, the Minister said.
"First of all [the schools] will have to say that they will welcome children in all the equality areas - irrespective of marital status, sexual orientation of the parents, if they have a disability or are members of the travelling community.
"The schools will have to be clear on this on their admissions policy," Minister O'Sullivan said. "Secondly, they won't be allowed to charge for someone to put their name down.
"Thirdly, they won't be able to have names put down from birth or before the child is born. There will be a cut-off date - say a year or two years before that school is starting.
"The idea of that is to make it fairer in terms of access to schools," the minister said.