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 Header Item Ceisteanna - Questions
 Header Item Priority Questions
 Header Item School Enrolments

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 900 No. 1

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Ceisteanna - Questions

Priority Questions

School Enrolments

 1. Deputy Charlie McConalogue Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Education and Skills Information on Jan O'Sullivan Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan the discussions she has had in relation to the inclusion of provisions excluding denominational schools from using a child's religion in selection criteria for school admissions in the forthcoming Education (Admission to Schools) Bill; and if she will make a statement on the matter.  [44117/15]

Deputy Charlie McConalogue: Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue The question seeks an update from the Minister on the discussions she has had with her coalition partners on the need for a change to the current situation with regard to school admissions policy, particularly the criterion of religion. I note from the coverage in today's newspapers that the Minister intends to drop the Education (Admission to Schools) Bill and not to implement it before the election. I hope she will give a clear update on her position in that regard.

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Jan O'Sullivan): Information on Jan O'Sullivan Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan Under the Equal Status Act, schools are not permitted to discriminate in admission on any of the grounds set out in the Act. However, the Act contains an exemption which permits schools in which the objective is to provide education that promotes certain religious values to admit a student of a particular religion in preference to others.

The Deputy will be aware of the many positive elements of the admissions Bill, which will put an end to the charging of fees to parents who apply for a school place, tear down the soft barriers erected in front of some children with special needs, and bring openness and transparency to all school admissions.

The issue of the need to amend the Equal Status Act was not a feature of the consultation paper published in advance of the Education (Admission to Schools) Bill. When the Oireachtas committee considered this matter, it simply noted that "there is a potential tension between Articles 42 (Education) and 44 (Religion) of Bunreacht na hÉireann, and this poses a particular difficulty when legislating in this policy area." No amendment to the Equal Status Act has been included in the published Bill.

I have subsequently made clear my view that this is a matter that does need to be reviewed and addressed, and it will need to be a priority for the next Government so that it can be dealt with in advance of the next school year.

Deputy Charlie McConalogue: Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue I find it objectionable that we can read in today's newspapers a clearer explanation from the Minister as to the current status of the school admissions Bill than she has outlined in her reply to my question. Could she confirm whether it is her intention not to proceed with the Bill and instead to kick it to touch until after the next general election, as per her comments across a number of newspapers this morning? Could the Minister also outline the reason for that? Considerable effort has been put in by Members across the House and at committee level, with wide consultation across the education system on the Bill for the past three years. Ample time was available for the Bill to be introduced in the House, yet under the previous Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, and now under the tenure of the current Minister, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, all we have seen is delay after delay and the issue is being kicked to touch. Now it would appear that the Minister has no intention whatsoever of introducing the Bill into the Dáil before it is dissolved. Could the Minister please bring clarity to this?

Deputy Jan O'Sullivan: Information on Jan O'Sullivan Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan The Bill was published just before the summer, in April. I would like to have had time in the Dáil and Seanad to bring it through the Houses of the Oireachtas. I am not kicking the Bill to touch; if it can still be done, I will do it, but I am being realistic in terms of the Oireachtas calendar, in so far as we only have one more sitting week this year in the Dáil. We will only be back for a matter of weeks rather than any longer period after the Christmas break. I do not know when the election will be called but, realistically, I do not think we will have time to debate the many issues involved and to get such a complex piece of legislation through Committee and Report Stages in both Houses of the Oireachtas. I was being realistic about the Oireachtas calendar in a speech I made last night at the launch of Education Matters, a journal produced yearly on education issues. I referred to the matter in last night's speech. I honestly do not believe there will be enough time to bring the entire Bill through both Houses of the Oireachtas.

Deputy Charlie McConalogue: Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue The Minister is being defeatist rather than realistic, because this is something that was very much within the Minister's grasp. It was within her power to ensure the Bill went through the Dáil and Seanad during the past five years. In fact, it is something that the Minister and her predecessor, Deputy Quinn, flagged as one of the key reform measures of the Labour Party tenure in education in the past five years. It would now seem the Bill is not going to be delivered, and instead will be pushed onto the next Dáil to delay it as the Labour Party retreats to the political trenches in advance of the next general election, making big promises as to what it might do if the party returns to power while ignoring the fact that it has been a complete failure in terms of delivering reform in the current five-year period.

School admissions are one of the key issues, along with junior certificate reform and divestment, that the Minister and her predecessor, Deputy Quinn, flagged as priorities for the Labour Party in government, and on each of those fronts we have seen a total failure to deliver in any meaningful way, or certainly in the way that was outlined or intended. Much debate and consideration has been given to the Education (Admission to Schools) Bill. It is an important issue. I believe it should come before the Dáil. It is totally defeatist and a reflection on the tenure of the Labour Party in government that it is now the Minister's intention to kick the matter to touch and not to deliver on it.

Deputy Jan O'Sullivan: Information on Jan O'Sullivan Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan There will be an admissions Bill. There is no doubt about that. It will go through the Oireachtas after the election because it has to; it is something that will be addressed. My predecessor, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, brought the Bill a long way and I brought it to the point of being published. I reject the claim that we have not been working on reform. A significant amount of reform was achieved in education under the previous Minister, Deputy Quinn, with which I have subsequently continued. Junior certificate reform is now being implemented in schools.

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