The Forum on Patronage and Pluralism has recommended that a controversial rule governing Primary School education in Ireland be abolished.

The forum has been presenting its interim findings today and will send a final report to the Minister for Education by the end of the year.

Rule 68 states that "of all the parts of a school curriculum, Religious Instruction is by far the most important".

It goes on to describe Religious Instruction as a fundamental part of the school course that "should inform and vivify the whole work of the school".

It also states that the primary duty of an educator includes habituating a pupil to observe God's laws.

The General Secretary of the Department of Education, Brigid McManus, told the forum that her department would support the removal of this rule.

The forum has recommended that the divesting of Catholic schools should begin in 47 already identified areas.

They are typically towns around the country where there is no other Primary school provision apart from Catholic. They also include four urban Dublin areas.

Meanwhile, the chairman of a forum said it has come across incidents where school children from minority belief backgrounds feel "almost depressed and suicidal" because of their experience in Catholic schools.

Professor John Coolahan said this applied to a very small minority of pupils but that it was very serious.

The forum spoke to 86 children from non-Catholic backgrounds about their experience in Catholic schools.

Professor Coolahan said he did not wish to exaggerate but that for two children in that group a sense of exclusion had had a very big effect on them.

He said other children in the group said they felt excluded, uncomfortable and left aside in the classroom, especially when their Catholic classmates were preparing for sacraments, such as Communion or Confirmation.

Mr Coolahan also called on the Catholic Church to show examples of Catholic schools that were dealing well with accommodating minority belief pupils.