40 areas picked for Church to hand over school control
THE Department of Education has pinpointed more than 40 areas around the country where it believes a number of Catholic Church-run primary schools could be handed over to be run by another patron.
The department has written to senior bishops stating why it might be appropriate for the church to cede control there.
The Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Diarmuid Martin, and chair of the Bishops' Commission for Education, Bishop Leo O'Reilly, were among those who received the letter.
The department has based its figures on a number of criteria, such as a stable population and the number of Catholic schools in the area.
It has not released the list. However, the Irish Independent has learned it is to be split between Dublin and others parts of the country, including Tramore, Co Waterford; Killarney, Co Kerry; Athlone, Co Westmeath; and Ballinasloe, Co Galway. Earlier this year, only 10 areas were under consideration by the department, but that number grew to 40, giving the church greater choice.
The process could take years and there is no guarantee that parents and local church officials will approve the handover.
The Catholic Church is patron of 92pc of the State's 3,200 primary schools and Archbishop Martin has said it was no longer tenable for the church to run them all.
Declining vocations make it difficult for the church to maintain its involvement in the day-to-day running of schools, while the increasing cultural and religious mix in Ireland has fuelled demand for greater choice.
The bishops put the onus on the department to identify areas where there might be a case for handing over a Catholic school to another patron, based on its detailed knowledge of schools and their communities.
But, ultimately, it will be up to the local bishop, school boards of management and parents to decide whether they want to change.
While the Catholic Church has expressed a willingness to roll back, other patron bodies, such as the multidenominational Educate Together and the Irish language Gaelscoileanna movement, are keen to increase their presence.
The State has also become involved in the provision of primary education through the opening of a number of community primary schools, run by the County Dublin Vocational Education Committee (VEC).
For its part , the department has been mindful that the process of change does not leave the State in a situation where it is left with schools in the most disadvantaged communities.
A spokesperson for the Catholic bishops said they were awaiting information from the department.
A spokesperson for the Irish National Teachers' Organisation said there was a need for increased diversity but criticised the department's "lack of consultation with parents, teachers and management bodies".
Meanwhile, differing opinions have emerged from the Labour Party regarding a groundbreaking proposal to divide the patronage of a new second-level school between Co Dublin VEC and the multi-denominational body, Educate Together.
The party's education spokesperson Ruairi Quinn attacked the decision not to give Educate Together recognition in its own right. But Dublin West Labour TD Joanna Tuffy, welcomed the proposed partnership, claiming it had the potential to be an inclusive approach.