Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Education Thomas Byrne TD says his party is committed to reforming the procedures governing school admissions with a particular focus on ending the ‘baptism barrier’ while at the same time respecting the freedom of religion of parents in our pluralist society.

Deputy Byrne made the comments after submitting a comprehensive set of proposals to the Department of Education consultation on the role of religion in school admissions.

Deputy Byrne said, “Fianna Fáil believes that all children should have access to a school in their local community irrespective of their religion. The current situation whereby parents have to baptise their child simply to secure a school place has to end. It makes a mockery of the sacrament of baptism and the freedom of conscience and choice of parents.

“To date much of the commentary in relation to the baptism barrier has been focused exclusively on the idea of simply amending or deleting Section 7 of the Equal Status Act 2000. However this alone will not solve the problem as it is too simplistic and would endanger the right of Minority Faith Schools to defend their ethos. Accordingly Fianna Fáil believes a different approach is needed to end the baptism barrier while at the same time respecting the ethos of Minority Faith Schools, such as Protestant, Presbyterian or Jewish schools.

“We favour the introduction of a new set of selection criteria for over-subscribed schools, based on locality and catchment area. The enrolment criteria should be based on two mandatory criteria, namely on a sibling first principle and secondly the prioritisation of children living within a specific radius of a school. This would ensure that all children would have access to a local school, as well as ensuring for practical reasons that children can attend the same school as their siblings.

“The proposals we have put forward respect Faith Schools by ensuring that they are able to give admissions to children of their own denominational background but only in their own catchment area. For example, ordinarily the catchment area for a school might cover a specific town or village. However in the case of a Minority Faith School, such as the Church of Ireland, would cover a much larger geographic area to ensure that children from a minority faith background are afforded the opportunity to attend a school of their ethos if they so wish.

“Our proposals are considerate as they will effectively end the baptism barrier while also protecting the ethos of Minority Faith Schools,” concluded Deputy Byrne.