Education Minister Ruairi Quinn has said Government decisions to grant capital funding to fee-paying schools will have to be reviewed.
Speaking on RTÉ’s This Week, Mr Quinn said money was scarce and would have to be prioritised for schools who most need it and are least able to raise it themselves.
His comments came after figures emerged that over €8m in building grants have been given to the country's wealthiest schools by the Department of Education & Science over the last three-and-a-half years.
Fee-paying schools also receive around €100m per year in teachers' wages.
Figures given to RTÉ by the Department show that, as Ireland entered the recent economic crisis in 2008, these schools were in receipt of generous State grants for improvements on buildings and sports facilities.
Of the €8m, in excess of €2m went to Catholic fee-paying schools, many of them in the same geographic area where other free Catholic schools are in operation.
Over €6m went to schools of a Protestant or minority religious ethos. Boarding is subsidised or paid for in full for rural Protestants with lower incomes who do not have a protestant school in their area.
Some of the biggest grants in the years 2008-2011 went to:
- Blackrock College in Dublin (€269,438)
- Loreto Abbey in Dalkey in Dublin (€199,427)
- Holy Child, in Killiney, in Dublin (€180,004)
- St Joseph's of Cluny in Killiney
- Loreto SS, Foxrock in Dublin (€140,721)
- Notre Dame Des Missions, Churchtown in Dublin (€125,816)
However, the largest grant of €446,819 was given to Dominican College, Newbridge, Co Kildare.
The alma mater of former Taoiseach Brian Cowen, Cistercian College Roscrea, also received €126,655 between 2008 and 2011, when the previous government left office.
Figures for the last five years supplied to Maureen O'Sullivan TD, seen by the Irish Times, also show a further €38m in current expenditure (as opposed to capital or building grants) given to fee-paying schools over the last five years.
The building grant figures for the years 2000-2011 given to RTÉ show that a number of fee paying schools received millions of euros in grants from the Department of Education.
- Loreto High School in Rathfarnham in Dublin (€1,717,120.70)
- St Killian’s German School, Clonskeagh in Dublin (€1,497,012.91)
- St Joseph’s of Cluny, in Killiney in Dublin (€1,461,269.76)
- Dominican College in Newbridge, Co Kildare €3,488,077.98
In total, fee-paying schools got nearly €30m from the Department of Education. This represents nearly 1.5% of the money spent on buildings in secondary schools in the period 2000 - 2011.
Over €16m was given to Protestant or other minority faith schools, while Catholic and non-denominational fee paying schools were given €13m.
When asked by RTÉ for a response, the Joint Managerial Body - which represents the mostly religious-run voluntary schools, both free and fee paying - said that the issue of capital funding for school buildings was a matter for the trustees of schools.
The JMB's spokesman added: ‘…the JMB notes that all young people, including the 26,000 pupils in fee paying schools, are entitled to be provided with an education in recognised schools with appropriate accommodation.
‘The capital grants given by the State to fee paying schools are, as with all schools, used to provide essential learning facilities for the pupils in these schools. It must also be recognised that parents and trustees have made a significant contribution to the development of the schools in question.
‘Trustees and management of all schools are entitled to apply for capital grants and all such applications are assessed and decided upon according to a set of criteria established by the Building and Planning Unit in the Department of Education and Skills.’