School patronage tipped for Labour election campaign
Published 08/08/2015 | 02:30
The Labour Party is considering policy on school patronage as part of its election manifesto, the Irish Independent can reveal.
Senior Labour sources say the party is currently holding high-level discussions over developing an election strategy on the divisive issue which could set it on a collision course with its coalition partners in Fine Gael.
Education Minister Jan O'Sullivan felt the wrath of her colleagues in Fine Gael when she proposed a ban on Catholic Church-run schools giving preferential treatment to children who are baptised.
Parents have been forced to baptise children and apply to several schools to secure enrolment for their children in recent years.
Now, Labour plans to target the issue as it drafts its election manifesto in the coming months.
But many within Fine Gael believe it is not a subject that should be broached in the run-up to the election as it is likely to cause difficulties for both parties. The Coalition is hoping to go before the electorate offering economic and political stability in the face of the Left-leaning alternatives.
Yesterday, the Irish Independent revealed how a number of Fine Gael TDs - from both urban and rural constituencies - did not believe school patronage was currently a major issue among voters.
However, Minister O'Sullivan attacked the Church's stance on admissions in an interview with the Irish Independent earlier this week.
"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 want that either," the minister said.
The divestment of Catholic schools has been a controversial issue in many communities around the country in recent years.
However, in some areas, Government-commissioned opinion polls showed parents did not want the schools divested from the Church.
Most Fine Gael members are supportive of the divestment process but believe school boards of management should have the final say on a school's religious ethos.