Bruton confident changes to baptism barrier will stand up to any legal challenge

Update 4.54pm: Richard Bruton is confident changes to the baptism barrier will stand up to any legal challenge.

From September next year the majority of Catholic primary schools will not be able to refuse admission if a child is not baptised - when there is a waiting list.

Richard Bruton.

Cabinet has approved a bill which will also contains a number of exceptions, including for minority religions, while Gaelscoileanna will still be able to give priority to Irish speaking children.

The Education Minister says the amendments should come before the Dáil this month.

He said: "I believe that what we have done here is proportionate and balanced and it has the approval of the Attorney General who is the legal adviser to the Government and he believes that they are constitutionally robust."

Update 10.20am: Richard Bruton accused of having 'religious bee in his bonnet' over baptism barrier

The Education Minister has been accused of having a religious 'bee in his bonnet'.

The Cabinet has approved a new bill on the baptism barrier which will mean most Catholic primary schools cannot discriminate because of religion when there is a waiting list.

Richard Bruton believes the changes are also robust enough to withstand any potential court challenge.

Seamus Mulconry from the Catholic Primary Schools Management Association does not think the baptism barrier is an actual problem.

"We received 9,000 queries in a year from schools all over the country with problems," he said.

"Last year, we received four queries on baptismal certs and three of those were of pupils who arrived in with a baptismal cert and no birth cert.

"That's how big a problem it is.

It would be nice if the Minister, when he's finished getting this particular religious bee out of his bonnet, addressed the real challenges facing schools, which are lack of resources and curriculum overload.

Education Equality welcomed Mr Bruton's announcement.

"Finally, parents will be able to enjoy the right to freely choose and practice their own beliefs without the fear of being refused a school place as a result," said Chairperson April Duff.

It will come as a huge relief to many parents who currently fear discrimination because of their beliefs.

"Fair admissions policies will lead to a more open, inclusive society in which everyone can enjoy their own beliefs without fear of State sanction, and in which children are educated together rather than being segregated along religious lines”.

Digital Desk

Earlier: Government approves bill to end 'baptism barrier'

Update 7.02am: The government has approved a bill to end the 'baptism barrier' in schools.

It would mean schools cannot discriminate because of religion when there is a waiting list.

90% of Irish primary schools have a Catholic ethos and as of now when they are oversubscribed they can give priority to some children based on religion.

Education Minister Richard Bruton wants to change that, and yesterday got cabinet approval for a number of amendments to a school admissions bill.

He said it is unfair a child of no religion is passed over in favour of a child who has been baptised. He said he want to make the system as fair as possible.

Most people will recognise that it's very unfair for a child finding that someone very far away from their local school gets preference over the local child.

"It's unfair that a parent might feel compelled to baptise their child to get into the school if they wouldn't otherwise do that.

"What I'm trying to do is achieve a fair balance between different groups."

The amendment would end that practice in almost all schools.

The exception being children of minority religions so they can still access a school of their faith.

The amendments to the bill will also allow Gaelscoileanna to give priority to Irish speaking children, and will give the Minister the power to make a school open a special class for those with special needs where the National Council for Special Education has identified the need for one in that area.

Digital Desk

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