The Church will today launch a strong defence of denominational schools, but the Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO) says separate schools for different faiths are not needed in new areas.
It is the first major public disagreement about who will run the up to 400 new schools which will open over the next decade, catering for 100,000 additional pupils.
INTO says the State cannot afford to provide separate schools for every Church or group of parents that want to establish their own.
Instead, the union favours the community national school model -- two examples of which open in Co Dublin on Monday and will be run by the county's vocational education committee.
But Bishop Leo O'Reilly, who heads the Catholic hierarchy's Education Commission, says that this approach is not the best way forward. It would clearly be inadequate to the needs of Irish society, he writes in a booklet, due to be published today. He says that bishops have consistently called for a pluralistic education system, "one that includes several types of schools, including denominational schools".
Bishop O'Reilly says it is extremely unfair to claim that the choices parents make about the education of their children result in "segregation", much less "educational apartheid".
"These are highly emotive terms which are insulting to parents and should have no place in Irish public debate," he writes in a pamphlet published by the Iona Institute entitled 'The Liberal Case for Religious Schools'. Most of the pamphlet was written by Mater Dei lecturer John Murray.
But last night, INTO general secretary John Carr strongly disagreed with Church leaders over the most suitable type of school.
"Is it possible, never mind desirable, to have in every city, town and village different types of schools that reflect the individual wishes of each and every subset of parents?
"Already, it is clear that attempts thus far to provide for a limited amount of faith and linguistic diversity are directly responsible for many children being educated in substandard school conditions."
Mr Carr denied a suggestion in the pamphlet that a speech he delivered reflected a negative approach to denominational schools.
"Attempts have been made to portray the INTO as against denominational schools, when the reality is that teachers have indicated in several surveys their support for religious education in schools."
Mr Carr said that he respected the right of any parent to choose religious education for their children.
But he questioned if this should automatically extend to the provision of a denominational school. The suggestion that future school governance would best be served by a plurality of providers would result in massive costs, he argued.
Mr Carr said the concept of the community national school respected parents' rights to choose a religious education for their children. "It is not a case of trying to drive religion out of schools. Neither is it a case of trying to build a one-size-fits-all model," he said.
Mr Carr said the new model would be reflective of a new, modern Ireland. "Diversity is part of our society. So, also, is freedom of religion. These are not mutually exclusive and both can be accommodated in the community national school".
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