Discussions to start on transfer of Catholic schools

The Minister for Education and Skills Richard Bruton plans to have 400 non, or, multi-denominational schools open in Ireland by 2030.

According to the Department of Education and Skills, new schools will only account for roughly one third of the additional multi-denominational schools required to hit this target, in which, the transfer of schools from the catholic church to non-religious patrons will be necessary to reach this goal.

In recent months, parents in 16 pilot areas were surveyed to help get a clearer picture of their preferences regarding the role of religion in their child’s school. They were also surveyed on the demand for gaelscoileanna.

Figures from the 2016 census have strengthened the belief that the influence of the catholic church on the education system, with 90pc of primary schools currently under its control, is outdated.

While 78pc of the population identify as catholic, the number is far lower in younger age brackets, showing the number is as low as 60pc among 27-year olds.

Past attempts at transfers like this have been abandoned by details of landownership, as well as by what Archbishop Martin has described as a “stubborn reluctance” on the church’s behalf to give up schools.

Bruton hopes to overcome the obstacles his predecessors have faced, by giving the church the opportunity to earn rent on the land, rather than losing ownership of it. He says he acknowledges “the importance of working with the current landowner… on a collaborative and open basis.”

Bruton also stated that his central goal as minister is to achieve “the best education service in Europe”, and that addressing the complex issues of diversity, religion and parental choice are fundamental to achieving this goal.

The Minister has said that the contribution that religious organisations have made to Irish education for the past two centuries, as well as the desire on the behalf of some parents to have their children educated within the religious community, cannot be ignored.

However, he says there is a growing demand for non and multi-denominational schools, and that he intends to provide a system which reflects the changing needs of Irish families.

By Sally Madden

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