Ireland to remove religious selection for Catholic primary schools in move at odds with UK Government proposals

9 May, 2018

Minister for Education, Richard Bruton

Ireland’s Minister for Education, Richard Bruton, announced today that the Republic of Ireland is going ahead with its plans to remove religious selection from Catholic primary schools. Three amendments to the Education (Admission to Schools) Bill 2016 that will bring about this change have now been brought forward by the Government and will most likely come into force later this year. The so-called ‘baptism barrier’ has forced parents to have their children baptised to secure a place at oversubscribed primary schools.

Humanists UK, which campaigns for an end to religious selection in state-funded schools, has welcomed the move, stating that it should serve as an example to the UK Government, which has proposed to increase rather than reduce religious discrimination in England’s school admissions.

The Minister said in a statement that,

‘It is unfair that a local child of no religion is passed over in favour of a child of religion, living some distance away for access to their local school. Parents should not feel pressured to baptise their child to get access to their local school. While 90 per cent of our primary schools are of a Catholic ethos, recent figures show that over 20 per cent and growing of our parent-age population is non-religious.’

As Ireland takes steps to end religious discrimination in schools, the UK Government is actively promoting it in England. This is despite evidence demonstrating that the proposal to remove the 50% cap on religious selection at religious free schools would be disastrous for diversity within schools in England, encouraging the segregation of pupils along religious and ethnic lines. The proposed changes in Ireland also demonstrate that it is perfectly achievable for Catholic schools to operate without discriminatory admissions policies, something that the Catholic Education Service has disingenuously denied in England, making dubious claims about the requirements of canon law.

Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Jay Harman commented, ‘We welcome the prospect of more inclusive and less discriminatory school admissions in Ireland. This is clearly a step forward for fairness and equality in the education system.  It is a matter of national shame, however, that the same cannot be said in England. Ireland’s progress is admirable, while the UK Government’s proposals to implement further religious discrimination are inexcusable.’


For further comment or information please contact Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Jay Harman on or 0207 324 3078.

Read our previous news item on the removal of the ‘baptism barrier’:

Read Humanists UK’s briefings on the 50% cap:

At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.