PRESS RELEASE: Joint Committee for the Irish Language, 24.04.24

Jill Mc Mahon

24/04/2024

All News | POLG | Second level

Oireachtas Committee hears Minister Foley is effectively blocking access to Irish-medium education

An Foras Pátrúnachta highlights the need for tangible actions to ensure state policy becomes reality

The current policy of the Department to not open new gaelscoileanna or provide gaelscoil students with the option to continue their education through Irish at second level has led to the first decrease in student numbers in Irish-medium Education (IME) in 50 years. his is according to figures from the past three school years (between 2020-21 and 2022-23) provided by An Foras Pátrúnachta, Ireland’s largest patron body of Irish-medium schools, at a meeting of the Joint Oireachtas Committee for the Irish Language, Gaeltacht and the Irish-speaking Community today.

The 20 Year Strategy for the Irish Language aims to increase the number of Irish speakers through the provision of Irish-medium education. In addition, the Programme for Government includes targets to double the number of young people in Irish-medium schools, as well as providing gaelscoileanna and gaelcholáistí in areas where a high demand exists. However, since 2022, there has been no clear path to establishing new schools by the state and no new schools have opened in this time.

General Secretary of An Foras Pátrúnachta, Caoimhín Ó hEaghra, said “In recent years, the number of students receiving IME at primary level has dropped from 8.1% to 8.0%, and from 3.7% to 3.5% at secondary level.”

“On the one hand the government signed into law The Official Languages Act in 2021. This includes a provision to ensure that by 2030 one-in-five new recruits to the public service can speak Irish at a high standard. On the other, they prevent access to IME, especially at second level. Where do they expect the 20% of recruits to come from? There is a complete lack of joined up thinking across government.”

An Foras Pátrúnachta has tried to engage with the Minister and the Department and has made every effort to support communities who are seeking IME for their children. “Our efforts to engage in talks on opening new gaelcholáistí largely go ignored by the Minister and the Department” said Ó hEaghra in reference to an ongoing parent-led campaign for a new Irish-medium secondary school in Castlebar, Co Mayo.

One area in which the problems are felt by many families is South-East Meath, a burgeoning area of the country which is already home to 4 gaelscoileanna (Gaelscoil na Mí; Gaelscoil na Cille, Gaelscoil na Ríthe and Gaelscoil Thulach na nÓg). Despite these schools being within a 20 minute journey of each other with over 1,100 students in attendance, the rate of transition of these students to gaelcholáistí is close to zero.

At today’s Oireachtas Committee, Cormac McCashin, Chairperson of Gaelscoil na Mí, said “The demand for a gaelcholáiste is clear. The state has invested at primary level so that shortly there will be 1,200 students attending the gaelscoileanna. However, the Department of Education has failed to follow through on its investment at second level. There is no gaelcholáiste in the area to cater for this huge number of students and that makes no sense, especially when the opposite is the policy of the state.”

Ó hEaghra said that the demand for IME is very clear from data gathered during the consultation on developing a new Policy for Irish-medium Education (August 2023), research from ESRI and Conradh na Gaeilge, as well as the number of parents who voted in the patronage processes between 2012 and 2021. “The conclusion from all the data is that the gap between demand and provision is deepening”.

To enable the state to achieve its own goals, An Foras Pátrúnachta has today recommended actions including a new process for opening new Irish-medium schools, legislation to ensure everyone has the right to Irish-medium education and a legislative duty to increase the number of Irish-medium schools.

END

NOTES FOR THE EDITOR

An Foras Pátrúnachta is the largest patron of Irish-medium schools in Ireland at both primary and secondary level. There are 80 schools under our patronage. An Foras Pátrúnachta is a patron of Irish-medium schools that have a choice of a Catholic, Multi-denominational, Intra-denominational and Interdenominational (Catholic / Protestant) ethos. We aim to grow the number of Irish-medium schools so that any parent who would choose Irish-medium education can access it.

Interviewees available upon request