LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Catholic schools in the Republic of Ireland can no longer give preference to Catholic students.

Richard Bruton, the Irish Minister for Education and Skills, made the announcement Oct. 3 on Twitter.

Unlike in the United States, the government funds religious schools in Ireland, and about 96 percent of elementary schools in the country are under the patronage of a religious group, and approximately 90 percent of these schools are run by the Catholic Church.

In some areas of the country – mostly in and around the capital Dublin – there are more students seeking places in certain Catholic schools than are available. These ‘oversubscribed’ schools can choose students belonging to the school’s denomination over students who live closer to the campus. Non-Catholic parents have complained about this “barrier barrier” keeping their children from going to the closest school.

Schools run by minority religions, primarily the Anglican Church of Ireland, will still be allowed to give preference to their own members, which Bruton said was needed to allow members of faith minorities access to a school of their own religion. The government minister said Catholics did not need this special protection, since the vast majority of primary schools are run by the Catholic Church.

“The order which I am signing today will ensure greater fairness in school admissions,” Bruton said. “The Act will create greater confidence for parents that the admission criteria laid down by schools and the procedures used by them are visible, legitimate, reasonable and fair.”

The Catholic Primary Schools Management Association and the Association of Trustees of Catholic Schools had both opposed the change to admissions policy, saying it interfered with the rights of faith schools and may violate Ireland’s constitution.

Currently, just over 78 percent of the population of the Republic of Ireland describes itself as Catholic, a sharp decline from the 84 percent who said they were Catholic in 2011. Of that number, less than 30 percent attend Mass every week; it was over 87 percent just 20 years ago.

The situation is even more dire with the youth of the nation: The latest European Social Survey, released earlier this year, shows only 54 percent of people between the ages of 16-29 identify as Catholic.

Revelations about clerical sexual abuse has led to much of this decline, and to a less deferential position towards the Church from the government.

On May 25, over two-thirds of Irish voters chose to repeal Ireland’s pro-life amendment in the country’s constitution, with polls showing 87 percent of voters aged 18-24 casting their ballot to legalize abortion; three years ago, 62 percent of the voters chose to legalize same-sex marriage.