Possible changes to school admission policies before Cabinet

Richard Bruton

Possible changes to the admission policies in schools are expected to be discussed at Cabinet today.

Education Minister Richard Bruton will bring proposals before his colleagues, which he has previously flagged will oblige all schools to admit pupils where there are available places.

The Government have pledged to increase the number of non-denominational and multi-denominational schools with a view to reaching 400 by 2030 as set out in the Programme for Government.

But it is unclear if the School Admissions Bill will or will not include proposals to give children equal access to State-funded schools regardless of their religion.

Education Minister Richard Bruton had signalled recently that the legislation may be delayed but Government sources last night said it was down on the agenda for today’s meeting. However, Mr Bruton has signalled that the religious rules cannot be changed.

“There is constitutional protection for religions within our constitution and the last Oireachtas committee recognised that there is a difficulty here. That has to be recognised,” he has said.

Meanwhile, Cabinet will today rubber-stamp new laws to allow gardai to intercept criminals’ email and text messages amid official concerns current legislation is outdated.

The issue will be raised by Tánaiste and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald this morning in response to the ongoing Kinahan-Hutch gangland feud in the capital.

Under existing rules, gardai are allowed to tap communications between alleged criminals under the Postal and Telecommunications Services Act 1983 and the Interception of Postal Packets and Telecommunications Messages Act 1993.

However, it is understood Cabinet will be told that EU officials seeking greater inter-country involvement in tackling gangs believe these pre-internet laws may not provide enough legal protection to allow all digital age communications to be covered.

In particular, EU and Department of Justice officials believe the nature of communications has “changed beyond recognition” with the creation of email, instant messaging, and social media.

And in an attempt to cut back on what it is alleged to be a lack of “a clear legislative basis for the interception of these modern forms of communication”, Ms Fitzgerald will ask cabinet to sign-off on new laws to close what officials have warned is a potentially dangerous gap in garda defences.

The decision to beef up powers for security services to examine private citizens’ email, text, and social media records in limited situations is likely to lead to concerns data protection rights are at risk of being infringed, and cause concern that officers have based previous convictions on cases that may not be covered fully by existing laws.

However, Ms Fitzgerald is expected to stress these new rules are needed to ensure gardai have adequate powers to tackle criminal gangs behind the recent outburst of violence in the capital.

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