“Myths and misinformation have no place in baptism debate,” according to Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Fine Gael Galway East TD, Ciaran Cannon, as he expressed his strong support for the proposals outlined by Minister for Education, Richard Bruton TD, this week.
In particular, Minister Cannon criticised claims that numbers of school places have anything to do with the discussion, reminding people that:
- as long as parents have choice of what school to send their children to, which is a positive thing, there will always be popular schools and oversubscribed schools;
- the question at play in this discussion is whether it is fair that religion should be permitted to be used as a criterion in allocating places in those oversubscribed schools;
- the Department of Education invests heavily in providing additional school places each year, with an average of 15,000 additional school places being provided and 7/8 brand new schools being opened each year – no child is left without a school place in his/her local area.
Minister Cannon said, “I strongly welcome the proposals outlined by Minister Bruton this week. This is an issue that has been talked about for some time but Minister Bruton is the first Minister for Education to actually develop and outline proposals to deal with it.
“The Minister’s proposals are fair and balanced, and respect the rights and interests of all three main groups of families with an interest in this area.
“Minority religious communities, because of their small size within the overall population, would find the ethos of their schools overrun if they were not allowed to use religion as a factor in admissions. As a result of these changes they will still be able to run schools which are genuinely of their ethos, and able to get their children into those schools.
“Unlike Catholic schools and Catholic families, because of their small size within the population, these communities need this protection if they are going to continue to run schools and get their children into them.
“After these changes, Catholic families will continue to be able to get their children into Catholic schools; and Catholic schools will be able to protect their ethos. Catholic schools make up 90% of all schools (2802 out of 3123 primary schools), and Catholic people make up 78% of the population.
“Non-denominational families, who have been disadvantaged in school admissions up to now, will now find that for well over 95% of schools (all schools except minority ethos schools which are oversubscribed), they will be treated the same as all other families in admissions. Non-denominational parents make up nearly 20% of all parents.
“I expect that in many areas outside Dublin and Cork, like my constituency in Galway East, these changes will not be felt in a significant way on the ground. The changes will only apply to oversubscribed schools, which amount to only 20% of schools across the country, most of them in large urban areas. Schools which are not oversubscribed take all applicants (a fact which will become law shortly).
“Finally, I wish to call on all sides to the debate to conduct a respectful debate and avoid introducing myths and misinformation into it. For example, school places have nothing to do with this debate. No matter how many school places we have, as long as families have choice in what school to go to, there will be popular schools and there will be oversubscribed schools.
“This debate is about what factors those oversubscribed schools are allowed to use in allocating places. I believe that if we are to have true equality of opportunity in 21st century Ireland, except in rare cases where absolutely necessary to protect communities, religion should not be a factor in that.”