Removal of ‘baptism barrier’ for school places contributing to fewer Christenings in Ireland

13 February, 2022

Trends in the Republic of Ireland appear to demonstrate a link between the removal of required religious practice for school admissions, and the number of people engaging in that practice. Ireland  removed the so-called ‘baptism barrier’ – whereby unbaptised children were sometimes ineligible for admission to certain Catholic schools – and a reduction in the number of baptisms then followed. Humanists UK has said that this is further evidence that religious admissions requirements create perverse incentives for parents.

In 2018 the Irish Government legislated to remove the ability of Catholic primary schools to use baptisms as admissions criteria. Figures now show that baptisms in Dublin decreased by approximately 10% between 2018 and 2019. In the previous seven years this had been hovering at around a 5% reduction a year. While the Irish birth rate also decreased over the same period, it was by a much smaller degree than the decrease in baptisms.

Humanists UK, which campaigns extensively for an end to religious selection in state school admissions, believes that this data demonstrates why such discrimination needs to end in the UK as well. It seems to prove the point that many parents exaggerate their religious observance in order to secure places for their children at local schools. This is because UK law currently permits schools with a religious character to select anywhere up to 100% of pupils on faith grounds. Not only is it grossly unfair to treat children differently according to the faith of their parents, but the practice can perpetuate economic and social divides.

Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Robert Cann said:

‘This data from Ireland confirms our suspicions, and simply highlights how daft our law is in the UK. Non-religious parents are going through the motions of organised religion simply to secure their children an education in a local school. Once school admissions requirements of parental religious observance are removed, behaviour is then seen to change.

‘Moreover, having this kind of policy in place cheapens religion for the genuinely religious. We will be sharing these findings with the governments of the UK to highlight the absurdity of current UK law.’


For further comment or information, contact Humanists UK Education Policy Researcher Dr Ruth Wareham at or phone 020 7324 3000 or 07725 110 860.

Read our article on parents exaggerating their faith in order to secure school places.

Read our article on pandemic policies on faith school admissions showing why they should be scrapped altogether.

Read our article on the faith school requiring weekly church attendance deemed ‘unreasonable’ by the admissions tribunal.

Read Humanists UK’s Manifesto for inclusive schools.

Read more about our work on faith schools and religious selection.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 100,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.