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Religious Discrimination

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 27 January 2015

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Questions (436)

Clare Daly

Question:

436. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Education and Skills her views on the fact that national schools of all patronages, when seeking State recognition and thereby State funding, legally committed themselves to be bona fide open to children of all religious denominations and that requiring a commitment to not discriminating on religious grounds on entry to all of these schools remains the first part of the ethos of all national State-funded schools. [3450/15]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

As part of the patronage determination process for new schools, prospective patrons must commit to enrolling pupils from the area to be served by the new school.

In relation to enrolment policies, it is the responsibility of the managerial authorities of all schools, whether extant or newly established, to implement an enrolment policy in accordance with the Education Act, 1998. In this regard a Board of Management may find it necessary to restrict enrolment to children from a particular area or a particular age group or on the basis of some other criterion. The criteria to be applied by schools in such circumstances are a matter for the schools themselves.

This selection process and the enrolment policy on which it is based must be non-discriminatory and must be applied fairly in respect of all applicants. Under section 15 (2) (d) of the Education Act 1998, each school is legally obliged to publish its enrolment policy.

Equality legislation, which also outlaws discrimination in relation to the admission of a student, makes provision for exemptions to apply in the case of single sex schools and in the case of schools where the objective is to provide education in an environment that promotes certain religious values. The legislation provides that any school that has this objective may admit a student of a particular religious denomination in preference to other students.

Section 29 of the Education Act 1998, provides parents with an appeal process where a board of management of a school or a person acting on behalf of the Board refuses enrolment to a student. Where a school refuses to enrol a pupil, the school is obliged to inform parents of their right under Section 29 of the Education Act 1998 to appeal that decision to either the relevant Educational Training Board or to the Secretary General of my Department.

It is my firm view that all schools should be inclusive. It is with this spirit of inclusiveness that the proposed Admission to Schools Bill is designed. Drafting of the Bill is currently at an advanced stage and the Bill is on the Government legislative programme for publication early in the Spring/Summer session.

The draft Bill does not propose changes to the existing equality legislation. However, the draft Bill will provide for schools to explicitly state in the school's admission policy that it will not discriminate against an applicant for admission on the grounds of disability, special educational needs, sexual orientation, family status, membership of the traveller community, race, civil status, gender or religion. The draft Bill will also provide for schools to publish an enrolment policy which will include details of the school's arrangements for students who do not want to attend religious instruction.

The Bill and its associated regulations should see improved access to schools for all pupils and ensure there is consistency, fairness and transparency in the admissions policies of schools and in the service they provide to parents.

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