Racism could be fuelled by allowing some schools to turn away children on religious grounds, a policy which an integration group claims is already creating social divisions.
The Integration Centre analysed migrant children between neighbouring schools in parts of Cork, Dublin, and Galway cities.
In one area of Cork’s northside, there was a school where half the pupils were from migrant families. But just 5% and 13% of children in two other schools were immigrants.
Conversely a multi-denominational school in Galway City north had just 22% migrant pupils but 70% of children at a Catholic school were migrants, showing many faith-based schools are very inclusive.
Almost 90% of the country’s 3,300 primary schools are Catholic and, while migrants are not all non-Catholic, the Integration Centre said religion is the only grounds which schools can legally use to discriminate when it comes to enrolment.
It wants equality law changed so that schools with high demand for places can no longer give preference to children of a particular faith or refuse to admit a child on religious grounds. It said there is a trend of immigrant children going to certain schools and white Irish attending others.
“Around one in five schools are at full capacity so they have the ability to pick and choose their pupils. Some of those schools with low percentages of migrant pupils are choosing to turn them away,” said Integration Centre public affairs director Helena Clarke.
She said there might be a number of reasons, such as the extra resources needed to provide extra language teaching, but that is unfair and can create a divided society.
“There’s an idea out there that racism isn’t a problem in Ireland but this under-the-radar stuff shows there’s a deeply entrenched notion of parents keeping their children away from migrants. These problems will get worse in the future if there is less integration in schools now,” Ms Clarke said.
Education Minister Ruairi Quinn plans to bring legislative proposals to Government this year that would ensure every child is treated fairly regarding enrolment.
A greater choice of school patrons may result from a series of recent parental surveys in more than 40 towns whose primary schools or mostly or all Catholic.
Ms Clarke said this will have no impact for the 60% of schools, mostly in rural areas, where there is no other local school choice.
“That’s why it’s so important to have an equitable framework of enrolment policies, it’s not enough to have guidelines. Religious discrimination is against the law in any other walk of life but it’s seen as OK when it comes to schools,” she claimed.
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