That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to provide for certain changes in relation to discrimination on grounds of religion in certain educational establishments; for that purpose to amend the Equal Status Act 2000; and to provide for connected matters.
Children benefit from meeting and getting to know children from various backgrounds and religions in school. Diversity in our schools is an opportunity for our society, not something by which we should feel threatened. All Members of the House will have heard the anecdotal and factual evidence of parents feeling forced to baptise their children to secure a school place. It is unlikely that any Member of the House would deny that the current situation should come to an end. We have brought forward this Bill because, unfortunately, it has become clear that in the programme for Government the Government appears to be determined not to make provision for this.
We have just heard very moving tributes to the late Jo Cox in the context of her fight for equality and fairness. Access to a local school is one of the most important things that a child can have. In the context of the arrangements indicated in the Constitution relating to denominational education, the purpose of this Labour Party Bill is to make provision so that, on a realistic and reasonable basis, our local children can gain access to their local schools, notwithstanding the existence of denominational schools in each area. In my constituency of Dublin West, I must commend all of the patron bodies, including the various religious authorities, and the boards of management and staff of schools for attempting to ensure that every child is welcome in their local school.