The Catholic Church’s “near monopoly control” on primary schools is “like something from another era” and cannot be allowed to continue, Social Democrats leader Holly Cairns has said.
Ms Cairns said the programme to divest schools from the Catholic Church is “clearly not working” with just one such case last year.
Speaking in the Dáil on Wednesday, she said the latest Census showed a drop in the proportion of the population who classify themselves as Catholic from 79 per cent in 2016 to 69 per cent last year.
“There’s also been a 62 per cent increase in the numbers who say they have no religion and I think we all know people who kind of go along with it and baptise their children to get them into a particular school so they’re not left out of a communion,” she said. “So of course the figures are probably even higher than what we’re seeing in the Census.”
The Cork South-West TD said despite the Census figures, nearly 90 per cent of the State’s primary schools remain Roman Catholic and asked would the Government conduct a review of the divestment programme “as a matter of urgency”.
“People shouldn’t be forced to go to school with an ethos which they don’t believe in because of a shortage of multi-denominational schools,” she said. “But this is happening because of a failure of the school divestment programme. Four hundred schools were supposed to become multi-denominational by 2030, but to date it is only 14 schools. Last year, just one school divested. So the divestment programme, I think safe to say, is clearly not working.
“The near monopoly control of the Catholic Church in our primary schools is like something from another era. It can’t be allowed to continue.”
In response, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Paschal Donohoe said the Census figures “remind us all of the scale of change that is underway in our society and in our economy”.
Mr Donohoe said from his own experience, divestment often happened slowly “because the school community themselves take time to consider this process and don’t always reach a view that change in patronship is appropriate”.
The Minister said he did believe there needed to be a “more diverse primary, secondary and educational system to support the needs of the children of the families” that the census figures indicates.