The parents of pre-school children in 16 areas across the country are being surveyed to find out what kind of primary schools they want to send their children to.

In a Department of Education initiative, parents are being asked whether they are satisfied with current school choices in their areas, or if would they choose multi or non-denominational education if it was available.

The surveys are part of a new process being undertaken by the department to provide more diversity within the primary school system in Ireland.

They are being undertaken by local education and training boards on behalf of the department.

Each of the country's 16 ETBs has chosen one area in which to pilot the survey process.

Parents have until mid-June to return their surveys, via local pre-school childcare providers in the areas.

More than 90% of primary schools in Ireland are run by the Catholic Church.

The Government aims to have 400 multi or non-denominational primary schools in operation by 2030.

Some of these will be created by transferring existing Catholic schools to multi-denominational patronage.

In a statement, the Department of Education said the survey results would form the basis of discussions with local school patrons - Catholic bishops in most cases - regarding the transfer of patronage of an existing school to meet demand.

The statement refers to what it calls "a common misconception" that the State can simply withdraw funding from denominational primary schools and use it to establish new multi and non-denominational schools in the same building instead.

It says the ownership and control of school property is a complex issue, both constitutionally and in terms of property law and rights.

The department says a number of schools are already considering transfers of patronage under the new process.

This is the second time that surveys of parents of pre-school children have been used to identify demand for multi-denominational primary education.

In 2012 and 2013, parents in 43 areas were surveyed and demand of a scale to merit what the department called "immediate changes" to primary school provision was identified in 65% of areas.

However most of these areas have not yet seen new schools established to meet that demand.

The 16 areas to be surveyed are; Athlone, Dublin 1, Tullow, Kinsale, Laytown/Bettystown, Athenry, Kenmare/Sneem, Skerries, Claremorris, Ballybofey, Ennis, Roscrea, Waterford city, Carrickmacross, Bray, and Edenderry.