Government promises 400 non-religious schools within the next 14 years

Government promises 400 non-religious schools within the next 14 years

The new Government plans to have 400 additional non-denominational and multi-denominational schools open by 2030, an Irish delegation told the United Nations today.

Ireland’s human rights record is under the microscope in Geneva, where Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald is due to speak later.

Ireland has also faced multiple calls for greater access to abortion, Travellers' rights, and rights for people with disabilities.

Gavin O’Brien from the Department of Education said the new Government was committed to increasing access to non-Catholic schools.

"The new Programme for Government, the incoming Government, contains a commitment to strengthen parental choice in this area, and to increase diversity of school type," he said.

"And there is an explicit commitment that by 2030, there will be 400 additional non-denominational and multi-denominational schools in Ireland."

In today's Programme for Government, stated: "A road map has been agreed for a phased transfer of Catholic schools to new patrons, where the support of communities exists.

"We will work with all stakeholders to facilitate this process whilst also considering new approaches such as the potential of different patrons on a single site.

"We will publish new School Admissions and Excellence legislation taking account of current draft proposals (publication of school enrolment policies, an end to waiting lists, introduction of annual enrolment structures, and transparency and fairness in admissions for pupils).

"We will seek to enact this legislation for the start of school year 2017-18."

Children’s rights organisation EQUATE welcomed the announcement, but said that urgent action is required to implement the plan.

“These commitments are a real opportunity for a strong and comprehensive reform plan to tackle religious discrimination in our schools,” director Michael Barron said.

“For this opportunity to be realised the Government needs to act now. Education reform takes time and the new Minister needs to move urgently so that it can become reality for families and children around the country.”

He added: “It is vital that the new bill reform Section 7.3 (c) of the Equal Status Act which allows school admission policies to religious discriminate against children. If we truly want an admission policy that is transparent and fair, then this law must be reformed.”

Update (5.16pm): Responding to today’s proceedings, Education Equality Chair April Duff said: “The last Universal Periodic Review in 2011 was scathing of Ireland’s failure to provide a level playing field within the education system for families of all religions and none.

“It is a shocking indictment of the Irish State that it explicitly rejected the UPR recommendations with respect to achieving religious equality within our schools, while accepting, or partially accepting, the overwhelming majority of the remaining recommendations.”

She added: “Ireland’s demographic makeup with respect to religious affiliation is changing fast, and the status quo in our schools, where children from non-religious and minority religious families are discriminated against on a daily basis, simply cannot be allowed to continue.”

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