My son struggles with Irish, but can’t get an exemption. Why is it still a core subject?

Those in favour and against Irish as core Leaving Cert subject generally agree that overhaul is needed

My eldest will be sit his Leaving next year and is asking about getting an exemption, but I’m told he’s not eligible. Why it is at core subject? And how is it so many children study Irish for 14 years and still can’t hold a conversation by the end of second level?

Those who are in favour and those who are against Irish as a core Leaving Certificate subject generally agree that an overhaul is needed to the method of teaching and learning Irish. Successive governments have done nothing of note to address this situation.

Change has happened, however, with exemptions. Figures indicate it has been made easier to access and now 50,000-plus students now opted out of Irish on grounds such as learning difficulties or arriving from outside the State.

There are no meaningful plans, as far as I am aware, to address the learning needs of students with learning difficulties: the default mechanism seems to be to award exemptions.


Students arriving from abroad also get little support to learn Irish. What we have is a system of exclusion rather than inclusion.

So what needs to happen? The Programme for Government pledges to “provide a comprehensive policy for the Irish language from pre-primary education to teacher education for all schools”.

The Department of Education could align Irish in the education system from early education to third level with the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR).

The European framework would develop a student’s language skills, which may differ between their oral, written, aural and other skills. This new approach would enable students to become basic users, independent users, or proficient users of Irish with the main emphasis being on an ability to be able to speak and communicate in the language.

The framework would also provide flexibility to cater for students with learning difficulties, while students who have a difficulty with their writing could do an oral exam only for the Leaving Certificate, which could be recognised with appropriate CAO points.

In addition, students from abroad could be provided access to learning Irish on the first level of the framework and receive their CAO points based on that.

Now that the Government has secured official recognition at EU level for Irish as a spoken language, is it not time that they followed through on their pledge to develop an effective policy for Irish across the entire education system?

The sooner we start using the CEFR method of teaching Irish in our schools, the quicker we will enable this generation to converse comfortably in their native tongue.