Prof. Diarmuid Ferriter wrote this in The Irish Independent on 30 March last.
The so-called ‘baptism barrier’ to children getting a place in Catholic primary schools is “a dark stain on the national conscience that needs to be removed”, according to Professor Diarmuid Ferriter.
The UCD Professor of Modern History told the INTO conference that “unbaptised children and their parents are treated as second class citizens and that has to stop”.
Prof Ferriter, both of whose parents were long-standing activists in the INTO, traced key developments in Irish education since the 1916 era in the course of an hour-long address to the conference.
He spoke of the scale of “enlightenment” of the current system, such as the focus on well-being, learning communities and gender positive action. He said 100 years ago Padraig Pearse was preoccupied with the idea of the “charismatic teacher and a child-centred approach”.
Prof Ferriter said while there was a shift away from religious control of schools, “nevertheless we have a denominational system”.
He said parents had a constitutional right about the choice of school to which they sent their children, but then he cited legislation that allowed schools to protect their ethos and asked “in reality do the really have that right, do they really have that choice”?
The legislation to which Prof Ferriter referred is the Equal Status Acts, which prohibits discrimination across society on nine grounds, including religion, but religious-controlled schools were given a derogation which allows them to give priority children of their faith.
In practice this means that, in Catholic-run schools, which account for nine in 10 of the country’s primary schools, children who have been baptised get priority enrolment over children who are not baptised, but live closer to the school.
It puts many parents who do not necessarily want their children baptised in the Catholic faith into a situation where they feel forced to do so in order to secure a place in the local school.
Prof Ferriter described it as “another dark stain on the national conscience that needs to be removed if we are to have truly republican education system”.
He said the current system did not protect those of no faith, even though the Irish Republic was to have a toleration of all faiths and none.