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Last Updated: Wednesday, 6 December 2006, 20:45 GMT
Bishops attack schools proposals
Bible and candle
The bishops said they could not commend the proposals
The Catholic Church has attacked plans for changes in education in Northern Ireland.

In a strongly-worded statement, the nine Northern Ireland bishops said the changes would "radically undermine" the Catholic education system.

The bishops were responding to detailed documents on how the new structures of administration will work.

The changes include removing powers from the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools.

The bishops were considering draft policy papers on the creation of new structures under the Review of Public Administration (RPA).

They said they could not accept proposals which "pose a serious threat to the right of parents to choose a Catholic education."

The department is to discuss the schools plan with interested bodies

"The proposals will radically undermine a long-cherished Catholic education system which has been recognised for the strength of its distinctiveness and the richness of its tradition and diversity as contributing to the raising of school standards and the promotion of a culture of tolerance and understanding," they said.

The bishops said their power to influence their own schools would be diminished with all powers handed to a new Education and Skills Authority and the Department of Education.

"We are satisfied that we have made every effort to engage positively with government and the Department of Education to develop arrangements in the best interests of all the educational partners, and which would provide quality education for all the children of Northern Ireland.

"On this occasion, however, we feel compelled to say that we cannot in conscience commend these proposals to parents, teachers and all involved in Catholic education."

The department said it had consulted with the bishops and other bodies involved.

"The latest set of RPA policy papers was drafted following positive and constructive engagement with stakeholders, and they were invited to submit further views or comments on these papers by mid January 2007," it said.

"The department intends to hold meetings with each group before then when there will be full opportunity to discuss the concerns raised."

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