Approximately 600 parents marched on the Dáil last Sunday, 3 July, to protest against what has become known as the “baptism barrier” to education.
Some parents applying for a place for their child in primary school have found they had no choice but to baptise their children in order to ensure they will get a place in their local school. In a country where 97% of schools are denominational, the continuing practice of many schools to discriminate against children who are not of the same denomination as the school in cases of over-subscription, has led to some parents either sending their child to school much further away than is practical, or baptising their child to get a place in the local school.
The Minister for Education, Richard Brouton, has committed to resolving this issue by opening 400 non-denominational and multi-denominational schools by 2030. However many parents and campaign groups, such as Education Equality, have said this will simply lead to segregation of pupils along religious lines and does not resolve the issue for parents whose children are adversely affected today.
The Minister has undertaken to create an Oireachtas Education Committee to consider the issue and identify any problems that may arise through a change in the Equal Status Act, which currently provides an exception for schools to make this practice legal. The Minister has previously said he was of the opinion that any change in the law would be unconstitutional.
Education Equality has stated that they have already had legal advice on the matter and they have been told there is nothing in the Constitution which would make removal of this inequity of the Equal Status Act illegal.