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Shift away from primary schools run by Catholic Church is a seismic moment

WHILE it will not quite rock the foundations of the Vatican, in terms of Irish education history, it is a seismic moment.

The Catholic Church controls about 2,840, or 90pc, of almost 3,200 primary schools in Ireland – but is now being asked to hand some of these over to other patron bodies.

Twenty-eight, or 1pc of the total, may seem a modest request – but the level of enthusiasm for it within the church varies.

Irish political and religious history, marked by the power and influence of the Catholic Church, shaped the national school system from its origins in the early 1900s.

Almost 200 years on, the narrative has changed and leading players, the Catholic bishops, are being asked to take a role in rewriting the script and giving themselves a lesser role.

The process that has given rise to the transfer requests is a long-awaited catch-up with a mood for certain change that first surfaced in the 1970s with campaigns for multi-denominational schools.

In the first instance, that led in 1978 to what is now Dalkey Educate Together.

Then came bottom-up pressure for greater choice in Irish medium education and so Gaelscoils appeared.

The influx of immigrants to Ireland at the end of the last century and up to the peak in 2006-2007 brought yet another dimension.

After almost 40 years, multi-denominational schools and the Gaelscoileanna represent only 4pc of all schools.

Apart from a limited number of areas of population growth, there is no demand to justify the building of additional schools – so the only way diversity can be accommodated is through a reconfiguration of those currently run by the Catholic Church.

Just how much appetite exists among parents remains a matter of dispute between the church and the Department of Education – which is why there is still a lot of writing to be done on this particular script.

Irish Independent