Under a plan in the new Programme for Government, Education Minister Richard Bruton begins consulting today with opposition parties and other Dáil groupings before introducing a new School Admissions Bill.
While the minister insists he must do so to ensure getting the law passed, his predecessor, Labour TD Jan O’Sullivan said he could simply amend the School Admissions Bill she introduced in April 2015.
It was based on nearly three years of consultation with education groups and the Oireachtas Education Committee on initial proposals and draft legislation from her predecessor and party colleague Ruairi Quinn.
There were public differences with Fine Gael over both Labour ministers’ planned limits on how many places schools could hold for children of past pupils.
“If the new Government were proposing changes on that issue, they could still do so by going ahead with the existing bill or amending it, and changing the regulations dealing with past pupils,” she said.
“Our bill hadn’t even got through the Dáil, it was ready to go since early last year but it never got the Dáil time,” she said.
But a spokesperson for Mr Bruton said the bill he hopes to introduce before the Dáil summer break would take account of current draft proposals, as set out in the Programme for Government.
“This Government does not have a majority. The minister’s interest is in providing a piece of legislation that stands the best possible chance of getting enacted and implemented quickly, so that children, parents and schools can quickly see the benefits,” he said.
“His belief is that the approach he is adopting, by drawing heavily on the existing legislation, taking the views of opposition parties, including Labour, publishing a new bill before the summer and proceeding to enactment as quickly as possible, provides the best possible chance of having these important laws in place as early as possible.”
It is unclear how it is planned to deal with the question of past pupils’ children, who the Oireachtas committee recommended schools should not be allowed reserve any places for. Ms O’Sullivan had suggested a 10% limit on numbers of places for those applicants, significantly lower than the 25% cap Ruairi Quinn initially proposed.
The previous bill and regulations proposed banning application fees to seek enrolment and first-come first-seved school waiting lists. An amendment proposed by Ms O’Sullivan, would have introduced a new appeal system for parents whose children were refused enrolment.