Clash looms over church demand for new schools
THE Catholic Church is demanding new primary schools in developing urban areas in return for handing over schools elsewhere.
The move is revealed in confidential church submissions to a Department of Education working group, which have been seen by the Irish Independent.
The disclosure follows the publication last week of a list of 43 areas where the department feels there are too many Catholic schools.
The documents link the transfer of some of these schools to a demand for schools in new areas -- a trade-off that some predict will lead to a church-state row.
One document, prepared jointly by the bishops and Catholic Primary School Management Association (CPSMA), makes clear the church's willingness to trade schools in new areas for old ones.
The submission says: "It is expected that the preparedness of the Catholic Church to consider transferring ownership in certain circumstances is something which will merit favourable consideration in applications for recognition of new Catholic schools, this would be a reciprocation of goodwill."
The number of Catholics had risen by 218,840, according to the country's 2006 census.
"Thus there is still clearly a need for new Catholic primary schools and provision must be made for such in newly developing areas".
The documents also confirm the church's opposition to the type of religious education programme offered in multi-denominational schools.
Although they do not name Educate Together, the joint Bishops/CPSMA submission and one from the Conference of Religious in Ireland state that "a neutral religious common education syllabus is unacceptable".
However, Educate Together chief executive Paul Rowe last night said: "The reality is that it is impossible to treat children of a different religious backgrounds equally unless such a programme is available".
Mr Rowe said also he was surprised that any patron would seek special treatment in the allocation of new schools on the basis of property transfers.
Labour education spokesman Ruairi Quinn said the documents clearly indicated that the Catholic Church did not contemplate reducing its near monopoly of primary school patronage.
"This is the church/state battle line that the next government will face, as Fianna Fail has been rolled over on this issue as they were with the supposed shared costs of compensation for clerical abuse victims," he said.
The submissions were made to a working group preparing revised procedures for setting up new primary schools.
The draft report says that there is a need for a formal process to transfer patronage in areas where there are too many Catholic schools.
It says that between 2002 and 2006, the percentage of those who did not profess any religion rose by 7.7pc while religions other than Catholic, Protestant, Presbyterian, Methodist or Jewish rose by 11.6pc. The percentage of Catholics rose by 1.5pc.
Although he was not involved in preparing the documents, the recently appointed chairman of the Catholic Schools Partnership, Fr Michael Drumm, defended them last night.
He said that they had to be read in the context of a situation where very few new Catholic primary schools and virtually no new Catholic secondary schools had been approved in the past 20 years.
The concern was that the Catholic Church would be excluded from the provision of new schools, he said, adding there was no contradiction between its position, as repeated last week, of its willingness to divest some of its schools and at the same time seek schools in new areas.
Indeed, it would be laughable to suggest that the church divests some of its schools to promote diversity of provision and was then excluded from providing schools in new areas where parents wanted them.
A submission from the CPSMA Galway Diocesan branch says that when a new Catholic parish is established, consideration should be given to setting up a parish primary school as soon as possible.
Baptismal and parish registers will be strong indicators of the need for one.