Church offered 'unsuitable' accommodation for new school, says Educate Together
Educate Together has hit out at "unsuitable" accommodation offered by the Catholic Church as a home for a new multi-denominational school, in the latest twist in the row over educational choice.
The premises was offered as part of the proposed divestment of some Catholic schools to other patron bodies in order to provide an alternative in areas where there is none.
The former Burren National School in Castlebar, Co Mayo, closed more than 20 years ago and, according to Educate Together, it "is simply unsuitable as a modern school building".
Educate Together said it was committed to opening a school in the area next month but that it was dealing with an "accommodation crisis" and wanted more suitable accommodation.
Since 2011, eight schools have opened in "divestment" areas and only one school - a Church of Ireland school - has actually transferred patronage.
Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Diarmuid Martin, has conceded that progress in relation to the divesting of Catholic schools has been too slow - but he also defended the right of Catholic schools to prioritise children who have been baptised.
But in a response, Education Minister Jan O'Sullivan said parents should not feel "forced to baptise their children" in order to get into a particular school.
She said she was particularly uncomfortable about that idea.
"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. In effect, some parents feel that that's the pressure they are under."
The minister said she didn't have the legal power to say to schools that "if you are not baptised or not part of that particular religion that they don't have to take you in.
"It is legislation that comes from the Department of Justice and Equality. There are no proposals to change it but I think it is an issue that needs to be debated and discussed in the next government, in view of how Ireland has changed.
"I think Ireland is changing so much now that certainly I would like to be part of discussions about how we can change that."
The minister said that ideally schools should be able to prioritise children who are from the locality.
Educate Together said State-funded schools should never be allowed to discriminate against children on religious grounds.