Amendment to exisiting Bill could end 'baptism barrier', says Minister

By Niall Murray

Plans to further restrict the use of religion as grounds to exclude pupils could be introduced sooner than previously expected, Education Minister Richard Bruton hinted.

He told the Seanad the proposal could be included in his School Admissions Bill, rather than requiring a separate piece of law.

He said in June that, having consulted on various options on the role of religion in school enrolment, he plans to amend equality law that allows schools use religion as a reason to refuse enrolment to uphold its ethos.

But there would still be limited exceptions to the ban on the so-called ‘baptism barrier’, in order to protect the rights of minority faiths and to ease other concerns like those of Catholic schools in border communities.

The minister told TDs at committee stage of the School Admissions Bill in June that intricate legal issues meant he had to deal with the religion issue separately, rather than delay the much broader bill that was being discussed at the time.

He needed to have detailed discussion on drafting the necessary legislation with the Attorney General’s office, but he told the Seanad yesterday that work is progressing well.

“It is my belief at this stage that it may now well be possible to introduce it as an amendment to the existing admissions bill, rather than requiring a separate Bill.

“Obviously, I don’t want to make a commitment that’s irrevocable because clearly this depends on the proposal we’ve made being found to be robust,” Mr Bruton said.

He said his proposal would mean religion could not be used in 95% of schools when determining which children are admitted.

Independent senator Lynn Ruane welcomed his comments and asked for the Seanad to be given time to consider his amendments.

This article first appeared on the Irish Examiner.

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