Protestant bishops fear 'baptism barrier' move will hurt communities
Protestant bishops warn that plans to restrict the role of religion in school admissions will damage their communities.
In a strongly worded Holy Week statement, they said that proposals from Education Minister Richard Bruton would radically undermine the legal protections that support the provision of faith-based education by religious minorities in Ireland.
Church of Ireland leaders are concerned that there is no interference with the rights of their schools to prioritise entry for students from their faith tradition.
"The rights of a minority denomination should not be trampled on in a race towards a populist understanding of pluralism," they said.
According to the bishops, more than 100 of the 277 Church of Ireland schools have made submissions to a consultation process, launched by Mr Bruton in January, expressing "alarm" at the minister's proposals.
The bishops, in their role as patrons of Church of Ireland primary schools, say that "this is a very strong voice from the members of our community, which must be heard and recognised."
The statement was issued in the name of the Primate of All Ireland and Archbishop of Armagh, Dr Richard Clarke, the Primate of Ireland Dr Samuel Jackson, and Archbishop of Dublin Michael Jackson and the eight other bishops.
Mr Bruton has presented four options for removing, or limiting the role of religion in school admissions, in a bid to address problems that can arise for parents in a system where 90pc of primary schools are under Catholic control.
Where such schools are oversubscribed, applications are prioritised on the basis of whether or not a child has been baptised into the Catholic faith, presenting what is commonly referred to as a "baptism barrier".
The Government is debarred from tackling issues around school entry on a Catholic-only basis, and , while minority religions do enjoy certain constitutional protections, the bishops' reading of the proposals has raised strong concerns.
They state that "changing the admissions rules, as proposed, will do nothing to increase resources in specific areas. Instead, the change will merely create a new cohort of children who are excluded from education within their own faith.
"To prevent a Church of Ireland school from prioritising children from that community will lead to a splintering and a diminishing of that link causing hurt, confusion and disillusionment.
"The rights of a minority denomination should not be trampled on in a race towards a populist understanding of pluralism."
They say that there are other administrative approaches the minister could take to address the challenges "in very limited areas where oversubscription and lack of capacity are creating difficulties."
They describe their schools as important components of Church of Ireland communities and other Christian minority communities throughout the country, providing an invaluable focal point for a faith community that is usually widely dispersed geographically.
"Church of Ireland schools enjoy a strong link with their community and there exists a strong interdependence socially, spiritually and very often practically," the statement adds.