Education Minister Ruairi Quinn has said the process that could see schools transferred from Catholic control to other models of patronage in several parts of the country will be slow and careful.
Mr Quinn said that there are 3,200 primary schools in Ireland, 93% of which are under Roman Catholic patronage, for historical reasons.
He said there are a lot of people who want a Roman Catholic education for their children and there are many others who want something else.
The minister said what the department is trying to do is to take a historical legacy and respect the voyage of young children through the educational process, while at the same time providing for a diversity of choice for parents.
Parents of young children in five towns will be surveyed online to see what kind of school they want.
It is open to parents with pre-school and primary school-going children in Arklow, Castlebar, Tramore, Trim and Whitehall in Dublin.
Chairperson of the Irish Catholic Schools Partnership Fr Michael Drumm has said that an online survey of parents to determine the types of school they want in their area is not a vote.
Speaking on RTÉ’s News at One, Fr Drumm said that he would have preferred a paper based questionnaire and that it was now up to the Department of Education to prove that the online survey will be robust and transparent.
Fr Drumm said that "the real likelihood is of mass non-participation".
He stressed that that this survey was not a plebiscite or a vote, but is instead a means of determining how many "real parents with real names, real addresses and real children" wanted additional forms of patronage.
"Let's say 50 activist parents, perfectly understandably go online and they're mainly active for a new type of school, for a VEC school or an Educate Together school or whatever it might be.
"So the outcome is that 50 parents all vote, all express that they want an additional form of patronage. That does not give us the result of a vote, this is not a plebiscite," Fr Drumm said.
"What that tells us is that there are 50 people in this area who want this type of school, those who don't participate, we would have to conclude are actually content with the present situation," he added.
If there is a demand for change, the department will talk to existing school patrons about the transfer of schools. A further 39 areas will then be surveyed.
The first such transfers are likely to take place in the capital.
The Catholic archdiocese is currently engaged in what it calls a "reorganisation" of its schools.
RTÉ News understands that one such reorganisation is close to completion and could result in the transfer of one Catholic school to multi-denominational status in the very near future.
Surveys were recommended by the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism, which published its report earlier this year.
The report of the forum suggested that up to 50 schools in areas where choice is limited or non-existent should change patron to provide for diversity.