Ó Searcaigh poetry to remain on syllabus

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THE WORK of poet Cathal Ó Searcaigh is to remain on the Leaving Cert curriculum. Last night, an advisory body to Minister for Education Mary Hanafin decided not to remove the poetry after a two-hour discussion on the issue.

The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) - comprised of teacher union and other education partners decided to make no recommendation on the issue to the Minister.

In practice, the council signalled that the acknowledged literary merit of Ó Searcaigh's work justified its place on the syllabus.

Last night, a spokeswoman for the Minister said she would be guided by the views of the NCCA.

In the run up to last night's meeting some NCCA members said they were anxious to demonstrate that the private life of any artist should not be a factor in assessing his/her suitability for inclusion in prescribed exam texts.

The issue was referred to the NCCA last month by Ms Hanafin last month when controversy about the RTÉ documentary Fairytale of Kathmandu first surfaced.

Ms Hanafin has stressed that she is open-minded about Ó Searcaigh's poetry remaining on the syllabus. Last month, Ms Hanafin - who once taught Ó Searcaigh's poetry as an Irish teacher in Blackrock, Dublin - said she was "shocked and appalled" by what she had "read in the newspapers" concerning the documentary.

Ó Searcaigh's poems are on the prescribed list for the 2008 and 2009 Leaving Cert examinations.

Some 253,000 people watched Fairytale of Kathmandu on RTÉ on Tuesday night, slightly below the average audience for the slot. A spokesman for the broadcaster said the film's viewing figure was equivalent to 21 per cent of those watching television at 10.15pm on Tuesday. The average for the slot is 260,000.

The film by Neasa Ní Chianáin accompanies the poet to Nepal and raises concern about his relationships with young men there. Ó Searcaigh has criticised his portrayal in the piece and has described it as "not only distorted and inaccurate but also very damaging to my reputation".

Meanwhile, Ó Searcaigh's spokesman, Liam Gaskin, yesterday withdrew from that role. Mr Gaskin said he took the decision because of a "misunderstanding" that arose when footage sent to him from Nepal by friends of Ó Searcaigh incorrectly identified an individual named Ram as someone of the same name who appeared in Ní Chianáin's film. This footage was then distributed to journalists.

"Although it was an innocent error, it has compromised my principles and professional integrity," he said. He continued: "I wish Cathal every good fortune and I will help him any way I can in my private capacity and I remain convinced that Cathal has to be counted amongst the victims of this affair."

Responding to the documentary, the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre (DRCC) said responsibility "always rests with the adults in the area of exploitation".

Its chief executive, Ellen O'Malley-Dunlop, said: "Over the past number of weeks both Cathal Ó Searcaigh and Neasa Ní Chianáin have been demonised from different quarters. They are both adults and Western adults who have the education and the access to look out for themselves in these matters, and we would hope that they both find the courage to ask the serious questions that they need to ask of themselves.

"However, the DRCC, as an organisation that has worked with the victims of rape and sexual abuse for nearly 30 years, has to have as its main concern the boys in this film, and there is no doubt in our minds but that this film was about their exploitation."

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