Proposal to delay school admissions Bill 'simply not acceptable'

Education Equality has said it was dismayed to hear Minister for Education Richard Bruton propose a further 12-month delay to a Bill aimed at ending religious discrimination in the area of school admissions.

If enacted, the Equal Status (Admissions to Schools) Bill 2016 would amend Section 7(3)(c) of the Equal Status Act 2000, which currently allows religious schools to prioritise children of the school’s denomination over others.

However, Minister Bruton has proposed an amendment to the Bill that would delay it by 12 months to allow for a “detailed consultation process”.

The Bill, first put forward by Labour Party TD Joan Burton, was debated in Dáil Éireann for two hours.

Members of pressure group Education Equality, who watched the debate from the public gallery, said that while it was encouraging to see an attempt to address the issue, it was dismayed to hear Minister Bruton’s proposal.

“Parents have waited long enough,” said Education Equality chairperson April Duff.

“While the Labour Party’s Bill falls significantly short of reforms required to achieve equal access to school for all children, Fine Gael’s proposed amendment would stymie all progress in this area for a year.

“A further one-year delay before taking any meaningful action to address religious discrimination in our schools is simply not acceptable to our members, many of whom have children starting school this September and in 2017.

“Fine Gael’s plea for more time to consider these proposals relies on exaggerated claims about the supposed ‘complexity’ of the legal and constitutional issues involved.

“We do not accept these arguments. We and other stakeholders have independently sought expert legal and constitutional advice on this issue, and the opinion we received was clear and unambiguous: firstly, the Constitution does not require religious discrimination in schools, and secondly, the State is fully within its rights to impose reasonable conditions on State funding for schools in order to ensure that they meet Constitutional requirements.”

Education Equality has organised a demonstration to call for equality in the education system for people of all beliefs, which will take place on Sunday afternoon, July 3.

Over 1,000 parents and children are expected to gather at St. Stephen’s Green at 12 noon for the Gathering for Change event, which the group has said will be “a family-friendly event for people of all ages to demonstrate for equal access to school places and equal respect at school”.

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