Although 90% of primary (elementary) schools in Ireland are Catholic-run, from next year, oversubscribed schools will not be able to discriminate because of religion or lack thereof.

Irish Minister for Education Richard Bruton on Wednesday announced that Irish schools will no longer be able to refuse students if they have not been baptized from next year onward.

The General Secretary of the Catholic Primary Schools Management Association, however, has said that the removal of the barrier is not necessary and schools already accept all students. Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Seamus Mulconry stated that the changes in law being made where redundant.

“The issue is the lack of school places, not religion. Ninety-five percent of schools are not oversubscribed,” he said.

Read more: Catholic Church should hand over properties before Pope’s Ireland visit

#baptismbarrier announcement for Catholic schools comes after years of campaign work by parents & all those seeking equality in education. Major advance, but still not full end of discrimination on religion. Solidarity will keep up pressure for separation of church & State #dubw

— Ruth Coppinger TD (@RuthCoppingerTD) May 9, 2018

“The Minister announced he is building 16 new schools. He’s solving the problem, so I don’t know why there is a need for this.

“This is not a massive deal for us. Even schools that are oversubscribed take non-Catholic children under the sibling rule," he added. 

“If Damien from ‘The Omen’ turned up, we’d take him in.”

On Wednesday, Minister Bruton announced three amendments to the Education (Admission to Schools) Bill 2016 which stated that the role of religion in Irish schools should be removed.

Read more: More Protestants now going to church than Catholics as numbers drop

Minister Bruton delivers historic reform of school admissions

— (@Education_Ire) May 9, 2018

Under these amendments, although over 90% of Irish schools are Catholic-run, they will no longer be able to discriminate against students who have not been baptized.

“It is unfair that a local child of no religion is passed over in favor of a child of religion, living some distance away for access to their local school. Parents should not feel pressured to baptize their child to get access to their local school,” Bruton said.

“While 90% of our primary schools are of a Catholic ethos, recent figures show that over 20% (and growing) of our parent-age population is non-religious. In addition, recent marriage statistics for 2017 show that only approximately 51% of marriages occurred in a Catholic ceremony.”

Under the proposed law, children of a minority faith will be protected to allow that they have access to a school of their faith. These minority faiths will include the Church of Ireland. This will allow these schools to protect their ethos when they are oversubscribed with students.

Read more: Parents calling for more non-religious schools in Ireland

New measures to lift the so-called baptism barrier are expected to be in place for children starting school in September of next year

— RTÉ News (@rtenews) May 9, 2018

Schools that are not oversubscribed will be expected to accept children of every religion.

The rules are set to go into force from the next academic year starting in September 2019.

Minister Bruton first unveiled these plans last year and The Irish Times reports that Catholic schools are already preparing to fight back. The Minister argues, however, that as over 90% of Irish schools cater to Catholics, students should still be able to access a school of their faith.

It would mean schools can't discriminate because of religion when there's a waiting list.

— Today FM (@TodayFM) May 9, 2018

Other changes in the Education (Admission to Schools) Bill 2016 that will seek to provide a fairer admissions policy in Irish schools include a provision to allow all-Irish primary and secondary schools to give enrolment priority to Irish-speaking children; and the granting of powers for the Minister for Education to require schools to open special classes for children with special needs where it is deemed necessary.

Should religion still play a role in Irish schools? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section, below.