The Question Will lifting the ‘Baptism barrier’ open schools?
News that Minister for Education Richard Bruton is planning to remove the so-called Baptism barrier for school admission has been greeted with horror by those who fear this could be the slippery slope to secularisation of Ireland’s education system.
Under the new legislation, Catholic schools that are oversubscribed will no longer be able to prioritise children of the Catholic faith in their admissions policy. At the moment, children of Catholic parents have priority for school places in cases where a school is oversubscribed. With over 90 per cent of Irish schools following a Catholic ethos, this has left non-religious families – of which there is a growing number – at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to accessing schools in their locality.
Indeed, many non-religious parents have felt obliged to baptise their children just to ensure they can get a place in school.
Bishops and trustee bodies of Catholic schools have opposed the move, claiming it will threaten their ethos, and encroach on parents’ rights to send their children to a faith-based school.
The Government is already braced for legal challenges to the legislation, which is due to be enacted in September of next year.
Under the new legislation, minority faith schools would still be allowed to prioritise children of their religion.
So, will lifting the Baptism barrier open the floodgates for a horde of heathens in Irish schools? According to Seamus Mulconry, general secretary of the Catholic Primary Schools Management Association, there really is no need to remove the Baptism barrier, because the provision of new schools will sort out the over-subscription problem.
“The issue is lack of school places, not religion,” he said on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland. “The Minister announced he is building 16 new schools. He’s solving the problem.” Besides, argues Mulconry, Catholic schools are happy to accept children of all faiths and none. “If Damien from The Omen turned up, we’d take him in.”
No doubt Damien’s daddy will warmly welcome the news.