Catholic schools in Ireland concerned by proposal to remove Church's patronage

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Parents and Catholic schools near Dublin have expressed their opposition to a Department of Education plan to divest a school in the area from its Catholic patronage.

The Catholic Church runs more than 90 percent of schools in the Republic of Ireland, and receives government funds to do so.

The Department of Education has requested that one of the eight Catholic schools in the Malahide-Portmarnock-Kinsealy area, about 10 miles northeast of Dublin, be removed from Catholic patronage.

The request is part of an effort to reduce the role of the Catholic Church in education in Ireland. The Department of Education wants to reach 400 multi- or non-denominational schools by 2030, through a combination of divestment from Catholic patronage and new openings.

Last year, a law was adopted to prohibit Catholic primary schools from prioritizing Catholic students on admissions wait lists.

The Irish Times reported that a letter from the board of management of St. Oliver Plunkett's School in Malahide told parents that the board and staff are entirely in favor of remaining under Catholic patronage, and that a change would have "huge implications".

"A change in patronage would mean that First Penance, First Holy Communion and Confirmation would no longer be the responsibility of the school. Therefore, should you wish your child to receive the Sacraments, all preparation would take place outside of school hours and at a cost to parents," the letter said.

It added that a patronage change "would impact the day to day running and management of the school, particularly in terms of managing finance, recruitment, allocation of resources."

Parents at local schools have also been warned that Catholic holidays such as Christmas, Easter, and St. Patrick's might no longer be celebrated at the schools were patronage changed, and that there would be a general change of culture at the schools.

A transfer of patronage would put the schools under either Educate Together, an educational charity which has been lauded by the National Secular Society of the U.K.; Community National School, a multidenominational model; or An Foras Patrunachta, a patron of Irish-language schools.

Parents of children at the schools will be asked to vote on whether they want their schol to divest from Catholic patronage.

In October 2018 Ireland adopted a law barring Catholic primary schools from taking religion into account in admissions. Under the new law, although Catholic schools can no longer use religion as a deciding factor in admissions, schools of minority religious groups, such as the Church of Ireland, can still use religion as a deciding factor to protect their ethos.

Previously, when a Catholic school was full, the admission process to determine which students would move off the waiting list could take religion into account.

Catholic organizations in Ireland have expressed worry that Catholic children and their parents could end up discriminated against under the new law, which they also fear could threaten the ethos of schools' Catholic education.

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