State could face lawsuits over removal of Catholic school ‘baptism barrier’

Catholic groups have warned of legal action if the Government moves ahead with plans to ban Catholic primary schools from prioritising the enrolment of baptised children.

Under plans announced by Education Minister Richard Bruton, over-subscribed Catholic schools would not be allowed to prioritise baptised children, but minority faith schools – such as Church of Ireland schools – would be allowed to prioritise members of their religion.

The move is included in the Education (Admission to Schools) Bill.

The Catholic Primary Schools Management Association has said the bill may “open the State to a multiplicity of civil suits by those parents who wish to retain a Catholic faith ethos of their children”.

In a submission released to The Irish Times under a Freedom of Information request, the Association added: “If the substance of the proposal is to effectively preclude parents in violation of their conscience from sending a child to a school of their choice, it would be very difficult to uphold the constitutionality of such a legislative choice.”

Meanwhile, barrister Maria Steen of the Iona Institute claimed the Government is “trying to pass the buck to the churches, and particularly the Catholic Church” instead of facing up to its failings.

She said: “There has been an abysmal failure on part of this Government to identify areas of rapid growth and provide school places, and there’s no excuse for them trying to pass the buck to the churches, and particularly the Catholic Church.

“They’ve been hiding behind the Catholic Church’s schools for long enough. It is the minister’s duty to provide schools, not the Catholic Church’s.”