A group of constitutional law experts have said they see no constitutional impediment to changing the law to ensure that children have equal access to State-funded schools regardless of whether or not they are Catholic.

Two weeks ago Taoiseach Enda Kenny told the Dáil that the Government had been advised of "potentially very significant constitutional" barriers to change in this area.

Although the Taoiseach referred to "advice" received, a spokesperson confirmed to RTÉ News that no legal advice had been received by Government on this issue.

Enda Kenny tells the Dáil of advice received by the Government on the issue of school admissions

Three constitutional law experts from University College Cork, NUI Galway and Trinity College Dublin have published a legal opinion that conflicts with the Taoiseach's assertion.

Dr Conor O'Mahony, who co-authored the opinion, has told RTÉ News that constitutional concerns are "greatly overstated to say the least".

The UCC senior lecturer on Constitional Law said when it came to competing constitutional rights and claims, the courts had always said that it was up to the Oireachtas to decide how to balance those rights.
 

He said the courts had also said very clearly that when it came to the allocation of public funds to schools the Oireachtas was entitled to attach reasonable conditions to the allocation of those funds.

The Equal Status Act gives Catholic children preferential access to the vast majority of publicly-funded schools.

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child has recently recommended that the Act be amended in order to eliminate discrimination.

In the Dáil two weeks ago Mr Kenny warned of "lengthy legal challenges" should the law be amended and said that a referendum may be necessary.

RTÉ News has asked the Taoiseach's office to clarify where the advice cited by Mr Kenny has come from, but we have not yet received a response.

Anti-Austerity Alliance People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said the Taoiseach needed to explain precisely what this advice was and where he got it.

Sinn Féin has said it welcomes today's legal opinion, which adds clarity to debate on the issue.

Moving a bill yesterday to combat discrimination in school admissions, Labour's Joan Burton said there was "a clear tension" between provisions in the Constitution. But she said the Supreme Court had said that if a school accepts public funds then any child was entitled to attend it.

The legal opinion was commissioned by Equate, a charity campaigning for equal access to schools.

The legal opinion was written by Dr O’Mahony, Dr Eoin Daly, Lecturer in Constitutional Law in NUIG, and Dr David Kenny, Assistant Professor in Constitutional Law at Trinity College.