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Time to lift barrier to primary school entry


Education Minister Richard Bruton Photo: Tom Burke

Education Minister Richard Bruton Photo: Tom Burke

Education Minister Richard Bruton Photo: Tom Burke

The so-called 'baptism barrier' to enrolling children in the vast majority of primary schools in this country has become a substantial political issue.

The Catholic Church - which runs 90pc of those schools - would have us believe that the barrier is largely an urban myth, but, for many parents, it's a very real impediment to getting their children into a local school.

Education Minister Richard Bruton nails his colours firmly to the mast in an intervention today. He says it is unfair that preference is given by publicly funded religious schools to children of their own religion who might live some distance away, ahead of children of a different religion or of no religion who live close to the school.

He has set out four possible options to deal with the issue, and is embarking on a consultation process to test the water. Any change has to try to anticipate unintended consequences and, if possible, avoid a constitutional challenge which will delay its implementation.

The future of minority schools has to be safeguarded, while the rights of parents of no religion to get their children into local schools also have to be accommodated. That's easier said than done.

There is a fifth option he hasn't mentioned, which may eventually have to come into play if there is not a more generous response from the Catholic Church.

Linking State funding of schools to a more equitable system of entry would concentrate the minds of school patrons and lead to a speedy resolution. Catholic Schools Week starts on January 29 and provides an ideal opportunity for the Church to react positively to the minister's initiative. This is an issue that needs to be resolved sooner rather than later.

Brexit process finally gathers momentum

Up to now, British Prime Minister Theresa May has clung to her insistence that her silence on Brexit aims was about not showing her government's hand too early. Few people, in London or elsewhere, believed that as the evidence of chaos and disagreement was too abundant.

Tomorrow we expect Mrs May to finally spell out some broad principles. By then it is also very likely that the signal for unnecessary and unwanted elections in Northern Ireland will have been given.

Already, most indications from London have been that it will seek a clean and distinct break with the European Union, and that Ireland will risk being seriously damaged in the political and economic fallout.

We need Britain to maintain strong links with the other 27 EU states. We must at all costs avoid the return of a 'hard Border' with the North.

The political vacuum in Belfast will add to the challenge facing the Dublin government. Both sides in the North, but predominantly the Democratic Unionist Party, really should be ashamed of themselves as they have failed to deal with a serious problem in time to face an upcoming crisis. We can only hope that politicians in the south learn the lessons and stay together in the coming months.

The people in all corners of this island will not accept a return to our dark past. Those who jeopardise our peace and prosperity will face a reckoning in the medium to longer term.

Irish Independent