The number of children attending Catholic primary schools here continues to grow, and has grown more strongly this year compared to any other sector, according to the latest Department of Education enrolment data.
An additional almost 2,500 school places were created in Catholic schools throughout the country this year compared to last. The figures have been published after controversy last week over a Department of Education decision to place a cap on growth in schools in the multi-denominational sector. The increase also comes despite a commitment by the Department of Education to reduce reliance on the Catholic school sector.
Overall, numbers attending primary school rose by 5,000 this year. That's a growth of almost 1%. While a little more than half of this increase was accommodated by expansion in Catholic school places, just under half – 2,448 - was accommodated by growth in the multi denominational schools' sectors.
This represents a 9% growth for that sector, but it is from a low base. Just 5.4% of primary schools are now multi-denominational, compared to 96% that are religious.
91% of children here attend Catholic schools. This year's growth of school places in the Catholic schools' sector is at odds with the most recent census data which showed a sharp decline in the number of Catholics here, as well as a significant rise in the number of people stating they have no religion.
The Department of Education has instructed multi-denominational schools in Trim, Tramore, Tuam, Castlebar and New Ross to limit their enrolment next September to just 13 pupils, which is the equivalent of half a class.
All five Educate Together schools say demand for multi-denominational education in their areas is far greater. They believe they should be allowed to grow to meet that demand.
The Department of Education cited financial reasons for its decision. Minister Richard Bruton told the Dáil last week that the state was "not in a financial position to build additional schools just because people do not want the schools that are already in place".