Ó Searcaigh's poems may be removed from syllabus

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The work of poet Cathal Ó Searcaigh is to remain on the Leaving Cert curriculum for the next two years, but an advisory body to Minister for Education Mary Hanafin may remove his material from future exams.

Ms Hanafin told the Dáil yesterday she was "shocked and appalled" by what she had "read in the newspapers" concerning the poet, who is the subject of a new documentary film, Fairytale of Kathmandu. The film accompanies the poet to Nepal to film his education projects, but goes on to express concern about his relationship with young men there.

Questioned in the Dáil by Fine Gael education spokesman Brian Hayes about "the appropriateness or otherwise" of Ó Searcaigh's poetry remaining on the Leaving Cert syllabus, Ms Hanafin said the issue was "complex and must be considered carefully and in a measured way".

She said that in any event she was due to receive advice shortly from the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment.

"There might be questions about the character of many people whose literature has been on courses for the past 100 years," she said. "This is different, however, because it is a current case involving a person living in this country. Students must answer one question about the poet, which could cause difficulty."

She emphasised, however, that Ó Searcaigh's poems were on the prescribed list for the 2008 and 2009 Leaving Cert examinations, and "as students may already have done considerable work on them, it would be unfair to change the list at this stage".

The NCCA will, as a matter of course, review the Irish syllabus for exams from 2010 and decide what texts should be prescribed. Last night NCCA chief executive Anne Looney said the issue of Ó Searcaigh's inclusion on the Leaving Cert course would be considered when the council holds its regular monthly meeting in March.

It is widely expected in education circles, however, that the Irish syllabus committee of the NCCA will remove Ó Searcaigh from the list of prescribed poets.

Ms Hanafin stressed she would have no role in this process.

"I do not know of any situation, nor would any be desirable, in which a minister for education and science would determine what should be on the course. If that was the case, we could all interfere with the syllabus."

In a statement yesterday Ó Searcaigh said if his gay lifestyle and relationships in Nepal had offended anyone, he was sorry, but to suggest he had in any way coerced or preyed upon young men was "untrue and distasteful".

He said he had considered deeply the opinions of his critics and he could see how his actions "could have been misinterpreted".

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