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We need real dialogue on the future of our schools

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Education Minister Richard Bruton. Photo: Tom Burke

Education Minister Richard Bruton. Photo: Tom Burke

Education Minister Richard Bruton. Photo: Tom Burke

Today marks the start of Catholic Schools Week, an opportunity to reflect on the position of faith schools within our education system. It seems a good time for the education minister to launch a discussion on school patronage.

The big changes in Irish society in relation to religious practice, and the fall in the numbers of priests and the religious, have given a sharper focus to this tricky issue.

We need continued respectful dialogue in the matter, but we must also note that progress on change has been painfully slow.

The Education Minister, Richard Bruton, favours the outsourcing of decisions about which of the country's 2,880 Catholic primary schools will remain under Church control, and which will become multi-denominational, under various churches, or entirely non-denominational.

Under his latest proposals, up to 150 schools will be leased as "going concerns", but put under new management. Teachers and parents who want the traditional brand of Catholic schools may opt to go elsewhere, or they can stay if they wish. The current Catholic school owners, the bishops, would be paid an annual rent of anything up to €20,000 a year for each property transferred.

This element of the plan will undoubtedly attract controversy, with critics arguing that the schools were built with taxpayers' money. But it may be a practical proposal which could facilitate changes and help secure the proper administration of our schools.

Irish Independent