The Protestant Archbishop of Dublin has accused the Department of Education of a determined and doctrinaire attack against Protestant schools.

In an address delivered to the Dublin and Glendalough Diocesan Synod, Dr John Neill strongly criticises last year's Budget decision to remove certain funding from Protestant Schools and cut their teacher entitlement.

Dr Neill said he believes the decision was driven not by financial considerations but by an unjust and doctrinaire effort to strike at the sector.

The State's 21 Protestant fee-paying schools used to receive funding equivalent to that given to non fee-paying schools. They were also allocated the same teacher allocation.

However, last year's Budget removed most of these special allowances.

Dr Neill said the sudden transfer of these schools from this special category is grossly unfair and threatens the future of Protestant schools.

The Archbishop said the Minister for Education is attempting to place all Protestants into a category of privilege - suggesting that they have chosen private education.

He said the reality is that the old system enabled Protestant schools to financially support poorer Protestant parents who for reasons of ethos and tradition had no choice but to send their children to fee-paying schools.

Today, the Minister for Education again defended his decision to withdraw certain funding from the country's Protestant schools after Fine Gael branded the move 'utterly insensitive'.

Speaking in the Dáil, Batt O'Keeffe said advice he received from the Attorney General stated that continuing the grant would be unconstitutional.

The Minister said he would not be prepared to act in such a way that would be contrary to the Constitution.

Fine Gael Education Spokesman Brian Hayes said the Minister was on a 'collision course' with the Protestant faith and said the decision would have considerable implications.

Minister O'Keeffe said in his discussions with Protestant bishops he treated them with respect and said he was waiting to hear proposals from them on the issue.

The Education Department says Article 44 of the Constitution permits State aid to denominational schools but only on the basis that there is no discrimination between schools of different denominations.

It says the country's 21 Protestant fee-paying schools continue to receive an additional grant worth €6.5m a year, which is not available to Catholic fee-paying schools.

It says Minister O'Keeffe is prepared to consider any proposals that would focus funding on rural Protestant schools that are in need of special support.