Report recommends divesting of religious patronage from around 50 primary schools

Education Minister Ruairi Quinn

A new report has recommended that around 50 schools be divested around the country and that 'faith formation' should be taught outside of school hours.

The report comes from an advisory group to the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism in Primary Schools, which was launched by Education Minister Ruairi Quinn in a bid to increase diversity in Irish schools, around 90% of which are run by the Catholic church.

The report advises that around 50 schools should be divested from 47 catchment areas that have already been identified, with work beginning within a year.

Divestment would take place on a phased basis with the Forum warning against a "big bang" approach.

The remaining non-divested schools would become more diverse, with faith formation becoming a more discreet subject.

This means preparing for the sacraments such as Communion and Confirmation would take place outside school hours.

Minister Quinn has welcomed the report and said he will have an official response next month.

"We live in a changed and changing nation," the Minister said.

"There is a general acceptance that a greater diversity of primary schooling is necessary and I welcome the readiness among partners to embrace this.

"The key issue is how best to promote and develop this diversity.

"The Advisory Group report will assist us in this complex area”.

Dr John Coolahane of NUI Maynooth, head of the advisory group to the Forum, said the changes should be brought in on a gradual basis so that people can adjust.

"Schools are a sensitive area," he said.

"People have a sense of identity and loyalty to schools (and) religion is a sensitive area in people's lives.

"We are very much of the view that this is a continual process over the next sequence of years. We think in that way you can build trust and confidence.

"We are very anxious to avoid social conflict and dissent on this issue at a local level, which could very well happen."

Speaking at her union's annual conference in Killarney, General Secretary of the INTO Sheila Nunan said putting these recommendations into practice will require a lot of work.

"There is a very close tie between the religious aspect and the cultural aspect - there is a bit of intertwining in that.

"A lot of Irish people were brought up with the iconography in schools.

"This is going to require a lot of careful planning."

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