UN calls for an end to religion bias in schools
The UN body on children's rights has called on the Government to take urgent action to end the way Irish schools can discriminate against children on religious grounds.
A report on Ireland from the committee of independent international human rights experts, expresses concern that schools "continue to practise discriminatory admissions policies on the basis of the child's religion".
It says that children "are not ensured the right to effectively opt out of religious classes and access appropriate alternatives to such classes".
There is a need for "concrete measures" to increase the number of non-denominational or multi-denominational schools and to change the law to eliminate discrimination in school admissions, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child said.
The report makes a wide range of findings in relation to how Ireland treats children and young people.
It looks at areas including health, education, play, youth justice, suicide and the voting age. The last report was in 2006.
Irish Human Rights and Equality Commissioner Emily Logan said the latest report showed that Ireland had come a long way in recent years in the protection and promotion of children's rights "but a great deal of work remains to be done".
Children's Rights Alliance chief executive Tanya Ward said that Ireland was found most wanting in the area of support for vulnerable and marginalised children - and their rights must be a priority in the next programme for government."
On the education front, the committee is also calling for reform of the Leaving Certificate "with a view to reducing the stress caused to children".
The recommendations on religion will add to pressure on the next government to address the dominant influence of the Catholic Church, which runs more than nine-in-10 primary schools, in Irish education.
Schools are allowed to select pupils in a way that will "protect their ethos" - most evident in Catholic primary schools in how they give priority to children who have been baptised
Groups advocating change have made it an election issue and say there is no place for it in modern, multi-cultural Ireland.
Education Equality chairperson April Duff said "the status quo is unsustainable. Many parents who are non-religious, or who practise minority religions, are unable to get their children into local schools".
Michael Barron, of children's rights NGO Equate, said: "Once again a UN committee is recommending to the Irish Government that serious reform is needed in how our schools operate and I believe that the time has come for them to do something about it."