THE Labour Party is considering policy on school patronage as part of its election manifesto, the Herald can reveal.
Senior Labour sources said the party was holding high-level discussions over developing an election strategy on the divisive issue which could set it on a collision course with its Fine Gael coalition partners.
Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan felt the wrath of her colleagues in Fine Gael when she proposed a ban on Catholic Church-run schools giving preferential treatment to children who are baptised.
Parents have been forced to baptise children and apply to several schools to secure enrolment for their children in recent years.
Now, Labour plan to target the issue as it drafts its election manifesto in the coming months. But many within Fine Gael believe its is not a subject that should be broached in the run-up to the election as it is likely to cause difficulties for both parties.
The Coalition is hoping to go before the electorate offering economic and political stability in the face of the left-leaning alternatives.
A number of Fine Gael TDs – from both urban and rural constituencies – do not believe school patronage is a major issue among voters.
However, Minister O’Sullivan attacked the church’s stance on admissions in an interview with the Herald earlier this week.
“I don’t think anyone should feel forced to baptise their children, if it is not something that they want. And I don’t think the churches want that either,” the minister said.
“I don’t have the legal power to say to schools that if you are not baptised or not part of that particular religion that they don’t have to take you in,” she added.
“It is legislation that comes from the Department of Justice and Equality. There are no proposals to change it, but I think it is an issue that needs to be debated and discussed in the next government in view of how Ireland has changed.
Divestment of Catholic church schools has been a controversial issue in many communities around the country in recent years.
However, in some areas, Government commissioned opinion polls showed parents did not want the schools divested from the Church.
Most Fine Gael members are supportive of the divestment process but believe school boards should have the final say on a school’s religious ethos.