Sunday 15 September 2019

Bishops unlikely to challenge end of baptism barrier

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin. Photo: John McElroy
Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin. Photo: John McElroy

Sarah MacDonald

The country's Catholic bishops are unlikely to take a legal challenge over proposals which will prohibit the Church's primary schools from giving priority to Catholic children in their enrolment policies.

Education Minister Richard Bruton secured Cabinet backing on Tuesday for his proposals, which will pave the way for the removal of the so-called baptism barrier in Catholic schools.

If the proposals proceed as planned from September 2019, schools which are oversubscribed will no longer be able to favour prospective pupils on the grounds of their religious adherence.

There is an exemption for schools of minority faiths such as the Presbyterian Church.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin was asked on RTÉ Radio's 'Today With Sean O'Rourke' about a report that the bishops, trustees and management bodies for the country's 2,880 Catholic primaries were preparing to fight the proposed changes through a legal challenge. Archbishop Martin said: "The bishops never discussed that."

However, he said they would have to "robustly defend Catholic ethos in Catholic schools": "The big problem is that as long as the Church maintains almost 90pc of schools in the country, this problem is going to emerge. I have consistently made proposals to reduce that number; I have met with resistance, not among the bishops but some of the various bureaucracies that are involved in school policy."

He said that, until there was greater diversity of patronage, there would be no real choice for parents.

According to Seamus Mulconry, general secretary of the Catholic Primary Schools Management Association, the issue of the baptism barrier affects a very small number of Catholic schools, mostly in Dublin.

"This is an issue about a lack of school places, it is not about religion," he said. "We have always made clear that Catholic schools want to accept everybody who applies. When we have space, we literally do take everybody who applies.

"As I said at the time, if Damien from 'The Omen' arrived in, we'd take him in."

Mr Bruton insisted yesterday the measure will be introduced in time to take effect before parents start enrolling children prior to September 2019.

Many educational and human rights authorities said the move was progressive but Catholic organisations fear schools under their ethos will be most affected.

Children's Ombudsman Dr Niall Muldoon also called for the bill underpinning the removal of the barrier to be progressed without further delay: "No child can be denied access to publicly funded education on the grounds of religion."

Irish Independent

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