LAST September, Jodie Neary, her partner, Enda, and their two young daughters moved from their home in South County Dublin to Greystones, a village in Wicklow, to secure school places at a local primary school for their two-and-a-half-year-old twins, Evyie and Mia.
“My partner and myself are not religious and we didn’t have the
children baptised,” says Jodie, a parliamentary assistant at Leinster
Entry to most of the schools in their previous neighbourhood was
heavily over-subscribed and schools were using the ‘baptism barrier’ to
deal with an overwhelming demand for classroom places — this allows
schools to give priority enrollment to children of their religious
Although both little girls’ names were put down for entry lists
to a number of primary schools across Dublin, the couple were told they
were at the bottom of the list.
“The State school are very over-subscribed and we knew the baptistic issue would be used,” Jodie says.
Even schools where religion is not an issue are hugely
over-subscribed, “simply because there is such demand in certain areas.”
So they moved to Greystones, where Jodie had put the girls’ names down
for the local Educate Together school.
“Because we are non-religious, our children are affected, in terms of
access to education — we had to move house to find a place that would
take our children and I feel that, at least, we are privileged enough to
be able to move — I’ve got friends who cannot move and they’re facing a
similar situation, where they may have to baptise their child.
“We were able to pick up our stuff and move to another location, and
thereby become eligible to access school places for our children.”
Last week, EQUATE, an organisation that campaigns for a school system
that reflects the diversity of Irish families, said that a quarter of
parents agreed in a study that they would not have baptised their child
if they hadn’t had to gain entry to a school.
Of the 400 people
questioned, 72% agreed that the law should be changed, so that baptism
can no longer be a requirement for school admission to state-funded
“We have an extraordinary primary school system, in which 96% of
primary schools are maintained by religious orders and most of them are
Catholic schools — in five counties alone, parents have no option but to
send children to religious-run primary schools, which are publicly
funded,” said EQUATE’s director, Michael Barron.
“Within that system, we have an extraordinary situation, where
religious-run schools are allowed to give preference in admission to
pupils of their own religion, above children of other, or no, religious
Because of the baptism ban, Mr Barron said, children are
not getting places in their local school and are driving long distances
to another school, or are in limbo about getting a school place. “We
have been holding community meetings across the country — parents are
coming to the meetings and discussing their anxiety and stress.”
Parents, he said, are baptising their children to get them into
schools, even if they hadn’t wanted to baptise them. “It’s asking people
to go against their own beliefs, in order to access a school system,”
“Irish people are proud of our schools. At EQUATE, we have been
holding public meetings across the country and this pride is clear from
our conversations with parents and communities.
“At these community meetings, we also hear that parents want changes
in our schools and that a system that might once have reflected our
lives no longer matches the reality of the diversity of our children and
families in a modern, pluralist Ireland,” Mr Barron said.
Last year, the UN Committee on the rights of the child recommended
that the State provide accessible options for children to opt out of
religious classes and access appropriate alternatives, in accordance
with the needs of children of minority faith or non-faith backgrounds.
It also wanted the Government to significantly increase the number of
non-denominational or multi-denominational schools and amend the
existing legislative framework to eliminate discrimination in school
Education Minister, Richard Bruton, has begun a consultation
process to look at the possibility of ending the so called ‘baptism