A year on since the Government and Fianna Fáil sent Labour’s Bill to amend the Equal Status Act to allow local children attend local schools regardless of their religion, for public consultation, Labour spokesperson on Education, Joan Burton TD, has called on the Government to take real action on the baptism barrier by getting its act together and accepting the proposed Labour Party law.
Deputy Burton said:
“The census results earlier this year should have been a wake up call for the Government on the urgent need for reform to the admissions process for our schools. Nearly half a million people now have no religion and our society continues to become more diverse.
“Last June Labour proposed, and the Dáil debated, our Bill to amend the Equal Status Act and redress the imbalance between the right to maintain denominational schools and the rights of children to receive a secular education in a State-funded school.
“With the support of Fianna Fáil, t he Gover nment sent our Bill for public consultation in the Education Committee but a year on we have seen little movement on the issue.
“This school year is just about over and many schools will have finalised their admissions for next year. Across the country parents will be anxiously trying to figure out where to send their children to school in the years ahead.
“So, the purpose of this Bill is to amend the Equal Status Act and redress the imbalance between the right to maintain denominational schools and the rights of children to receive a secular education in a State-funded school.
“Under our Bill, a State-funded denominational school can have a preferential admission policy only if it is proved that the policy is essential in order to ensure reasonable access to education for the children of that denomination within its catchment area, in accordance with the conscience and lawful preference of their parents.
“Our Bill also states that, in deciding whethe r an adm ission policy or a refusal is proved to be ‘essential’, due regard must be had to the constitutional right of any child to attend a State-funded school without attending religious instruction, and also to the concomitant obligation that every such school should be so organised as to enable that right to be enjoyed.
“This change would give effect to the principle that, if the local State-funded school is the only reasonably available school and it is a denominational school then, notwithstanding its religious ethos, the secular and religious instruction in that school must be severable, so as to enable a child to attend that school without receiving religious instruction. Otherwise, the school should not qualify for public money.
“Local children should have access to their local schools, because local schools serve as the centre of our communities.”