The Catholic Church may relinquish control of some primary schools to provide a wider mix of education options for parents, it emerged today.
The Catholic Archbishop of Dublin Dr Diarmuid Martin also called for state investment in social infrastructure as well as physical infrastructure such as broadband and new roads.
The prelate, who is a patron of 460 primary schools across his sprawling diocese, was speaking at a conference in Dublin addressing the challenges facing the governance of schools.
He said: “My interest is in providing Catholic education for those parents who want it for their children.
“In regard to existing Catholic schools, I believe there are ways of achieving a structured divesting of some of those schools.
“I would like to see it done in a particular area where you would end up creating a broad mix where parents would have different alternatives, including Catholic schools.”
Mr Martin also called for continued public investment in the education and healthcare of future generations.
“Real infrastructure isn’t just broadband and roads,” he told the conference entitled, The Governance Challenge for Future Primary School Needs.
He added: “It also is the social infrastructure of education and healthcare. If we take shortcuts we run the risk of being very short-sighted.
“Investment in the talents of the future generation is primary investment in terms of the future of Ireland.”
Education Minister Batt O’Keeffe told the event in the Royal Hospital in Kilmainham that the Government will continue to invest strongly in the education sector.
“We want to base ourselves as a knowledge economy into the future. We have to continue significant investment into education,” he said.
“Even though the financial constraints will be there, that investment must continue.”
Mr O’Keeffe said that Catholic schools may not be relevant to every aspect of a changing multi-faith society.
“We are indebted to the churches and, in more recent times, to the newer patronage bodies, for their leadership in creating and sustaining a national network of primary schools.
“These schools have provided opportunities for generations of our children, have provided the roots for social cohesion, and have been core to our collective identity and sense of civic community and belonging.
“We cannot take for granted, however, that the basic tenets of our successful model of primary education will continue to be relevant in every respect to the new Ireland of the 21st century.”
The conference also dealt with related issues such as capacity constraints and the provision of choice for parents.
Speakers also addressed the implications of changes in society on enrolment policies and approaches to the teaching of religion.