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Republic of Ireland's `baptism barrier' to be removed

The baptism barrier allows schools under Church control to give priority admissions to young people baptised in their faith

CATHOLIC schools in the Republic are to be prohibited from refusing children places based on religion.

Plans to remove the 'baptism barrier' are at an advanced stage, it has been reported.

The barrier allows schools under Church control to give priority admissions to young people baptised in their faith.

Education minister Richard Bruton announced the change last year.

It will only affect Catholic schools from giving priority to baptised children in cases where they are over-subscribed.

Other minority faiths, including the Church of Ireland, may continue the practice to protect ethos.

The plan requires a change in the law. The Department of Education said Mr Bruton expects to be able to make an announcement shortly on how this will work.

The issue has been with the Republic's attorney general, a department spokesman said, adding that engagement was "positive and is nearing completion".

Catholic groups have warned, however, that the change will create major constitutional problems and open the government to legal challenges from parents and religious bodies.

The Ombudsman for Children has also warned that plans to only partially lift the barrier will end up discriminating against children seeking access to minority faith schools.

Awarding priority based on faith is uncommon in the north.

Downey House and Fullerton House, preparatory departments of Methodist College Belfast, are among the only schools that have such an admissions criterion.

They give preference to applications to a child in their pre-school year first followed by "a child who is the son or daughter of a Methodist minister".

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