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Education next battle between Church and State


Education Minister Richard Bruton

Education Minister Richard Bruton

Education Minister Richard Bruton

The role of religion in education is set to be the next battleground in moves to separate Church and State.

Just days after the landslide referendum where voters brushed aside the Catholic Church's opposition to abortion, the Government resumed efforts in the Dáil to remove the 'baptism barrier' for school admissions. The timing is coincidental but comes amid a growing backlash against the Church.

Meanwhile, the Labour Party has called for a Citizens' Assembly - similar to the one that considered Ireland's abortion laws - to examine the issue of religious patronage of schools.

The Education (Admissions to Schools) Bill 2016 is in report and final stages in the Dáil and last night Education Minister Richard Bruton tabled a series of amendments designed to end the baptism barrier.

Mr Bruton told the Dáil that it is "unfair" that preference is currently given by publicly funded religious schools to children of their own denomination over children of a different religion or none who live closer.

He also said it's unfair "parents should feel obliged to baptise their child simply to get admission to their local school".

The Government proposals would mean Catholic 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.

People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett argued Mr Bruton's proposals didn't go far enough and there was a need to "completely separate Church and State".

He said any form of religious discrimination either in admission to schools or "a religious bias" being "imposed" on children who don't share the faith of the patron of the school they attend was "not acceptable in 21st century Ireland".

Mr Boyd Barrett referenced what he called the "astounding" abortion referendum result and said: "If evidence and support for the idea that the people of this country want a different type of society was required we certainly got it at the weekend."

He claimed the result was about "much more" than a woman's right to terminate a pregnancy.

Earlier, Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin told the Dáil there is a demand for non-denominational schools and he asked Taoiseach Leo Varadkar if the Government will convene a Citizens' Assembly to examine the issue of school patronage.

Mr Varadkar said he would consider the proposal.

He said the Government believes in diversity in education and this should include the Catholic Church and other religions.

The Taoiseach said: "There is room in our education system for different forms of patronage, including the Church of Ireland, the Catholic Church, other religions, Educate Together and Gaelscoileanna."

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