The Minister for Education has said he hopes to introduce a bill to remove the baptism barrier for most school admissions in the autumn.

Richard Bruton yesterday told an Oireachtas committee that intends to make a provision to ensure that, for the vast majority of State-funded primary schools, religion cannot be used as a criterion in admissions.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Mr Bruton said it is very unfair that parents feel they need to baptise children in order to get a place at a local school.

Mr Bruton pointed out that last year's census shows 20% of children are of no religion, but that 90% of schools are Catholic.

He said he did not believe his proposals were unfair but dealt with the problem in a proportionate way.

Mr Bruton said there will always be over-subscribed schools and new schools are being built continually.

He added that minority religious schools, such as Church of Ireland ones, would quickly cease to be religious schools if they were not allowed some special terms, but that is not true in the case of a Catholic school because 90% of schools are Catholic.

Labour's education spokesperson, meanwhile, called on Mr Bruton to amend and remove the baptism barrier as soon as possible, and to build more schools where populations are growing.

Joan Burton said parents should not have to baptise their children in the hope of getting them a place in the local school.

She said that the rights of the parents and children have to be balanced, along with the right of the religious  denomination to express its religious ethos in its institutions, but not to discriminate.

Every child, she said, should be a welcome child.

The General Secretary of the Catholic Primary Schools Management Association, meanwhile, has said there is a buildings barrier rather than a baptism barrier.

Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Cormac Ó hEadhra, Seamus Mulconry said the real issue is a lack of resources, not religion.

He claimed that there were over 7,600 unsuccessful applications for Catholic primary schools in Dublin and just 1.2% of those applicants did not have a baptism cert.

Mr Mulconry said that 95% of Catholic schools have never used religion to exclude anyone and this issue applies to just 5% of schools.

Speaking on the same programme, a spokesperson for Education Equality said the step to remove the baptism barrier is a positive one but does not represent full equality.

April Duff said there are questions to be asked about how non-religious children will be treated in religious schools.

She accepted that schools that are not oversubscribed generally do accept children of all faiths.

However, she said the problem is that parents have the threat of discrimination hanging over them.

The Ombudsman for Children has given a cautious welcome to the announcement.

Niall Muldoon said on RTÉ Drivetime that his office has been arguing for a long time that children should not be discriminated on based on religion.

He said the announcement by Mr Bruton is a big step forward, but not the full solution.

Mr Muldoon added that children should be consulted on the new legislation, giving them an opportunity to provide their opinion.