Call for Irish-medium secondary school for south Dublin

High demand for places at secondary level ‘cannot be met’ by existing supply say campaigners

Children from five south Dublin Irish medium primary schools gathered outside Leinster House on Wednesday and called for a new Gaelcholáiste to be established due to an acute shortage of available Irish-medium secondary school places.

Pupils from Scoil Bhríde, Gaelscoil Lios na nÓg, Scoil Mológa, Bunscoil Sancta Maria and Gaelscoil Eoin handed letters to TDs in which they called on Minister for Education, Norma Foley, to meet the demand for a new Gaelcholáiste.

Irish-medium education has seen significant growth in recent years. Some 45,000 pupils attend Irish-medium primary schools nationwide but there is capacity for only 13,900 students at Irish-medium secondary schools.

In 2019 the then Minister for Education Joe McHugh said a new Government policy on the language would double the number of students attending Irish-speaking schools . While the sector has seen significant growth at primary level in recent years, the ensuing demand for second level places cannot be met due to the low number of schools.

Some 249 places are available annually in three Gaelcholáistí located in the south and south-west Dublin area but campaigners say the demand far exceeds supply as the number of pupils attending Irish-medium primary schools in the area has grown from 3,500 pupils in 2011 to 7,000 in 2021.

They expect this figure to grow to over 9,000 pupils over the coming years but say the Department of Education has no plans to accommodate this growth.

Cormac Chambers, principal of Gaelscoil Lios na nÓg in Ranelagh said every pupil should have the opportunity to progress to a secondary school where education is delivered through the medium of Irish if they so wish.

“However, there is no Gaelcholáiste in our school area and the Department of Education has no current plans to establish a Gaelcholáiste for these students.”

Uncertainty

Instead, pupils attending Gaelscoileanna face “uncertainty” as they enter the final years of their schooling at primary level.

“Parents are forced to hedge their bets and put their children’s names down for quite a few schools. They are moving on to English-medium education and it is undermining the work we are doing at primary level,” he said.

“Most children would like an easy smooth transition, in the language they are used to, into second level. It is an unnecessary problem,” he added.

“There would be very few places in the country that has five Gaelscoileanna and no Gaelcholáiste. I think we have a very very strong case.”

Representatives including Ivana Bacik, Jim O'Callaghan, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Gary Gannon and Chris Andrews met with the children.

Sinn Féin TD for Dublin South Central Aengus Ó Snodaigh, who is also chair of the Oireachtas Committee on the Irish Language, Gaeltacht and the Irish-speaking Community, said the Department of Education "needs to get its act together, pure and simple".

“It needs to start planning for those children who are already in primary school and who would have to switch to a different language if they were to pursue their secondary education. The department hasn’t got its act together on the Irish language ever. It needs to do so now.”

“Those children who attend Irish language pre-schools and primary schools cannot further their education because there is no space available for them in secondary schools. The State is potentially denying them their education through Irish. If they were to avail of that they would have to travel well outside their area. That wouldn’t happen for English speakers.”

The Labour Party's Ivana Bacik said: "We have now quite a number of Gaelscoileanna in Dublin Bay South and indeed in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown. Clearly there is a need there for a secondary-level Gaelcholáiste."

She pointed to what she described as a "lack of forward-planning" by the Department of Education: "We are seeing [this] in the context of multi-denominational schooling and in the context of Irish-language schooling, where there is increased momentum for both Educate Together (ET) schools and for Gaelscoileanna.

“Yet that is not translating through into secondary and so children are left high-and-dry coming out of the multi-denominational system [without] enough ETs at secondary level and similarly coming through Gaelscoileanna but not having enough Gaelcholáistí. It’s a real issue in south Dublin but also, of course, across the country”.

Patronage

Suggesting that a greater focus should be placed on a model similar to that used to facilitate the transfer of patronage where it “clearly reflects” the wishes of parents she said: “I think we need to see the same sort of mechanism at second-level to transfer from English-language to Irish-medium.”

Fianna Fáil’s Jim O’Callaghan, who is also a Scoil Bhríde parent, said there is a “huge demand” in the constituency for an Irish medium secondary.

“There are five bunscoileanna in the area and the parents don’t have a choice. There is a demand there and I think parents of children who want their children educated in the Irish language should be given that option.”

He said he attended a meeting last week with Minister for Education Norma Foley which was also attended by the principals of the five schools.

“She recognises that there is a significant demand in the area,” he added.

A Department of Education spokeswoman said a new Gaelcholáiste established in Rathfarnham in 2014 to serve the south Dublin area "is a growing school and has capacity to take in additional students."

Plans for two new post-primary schools to serve the south Dublin area “have been deferred to 2023 at least,” she said, however developments on demographics “are being monitored” to assess the timing of the need to establish these schools.

While it is expected that existing Gaelcholáistí have sufficient places to accommodate the level of demand “in the short term”, she said that “given the number of new Gaelscoileanna which have opened in recent years or are planned to open,” the Department is keeping the position under “active review”.

Éanna Ó Caollaí

Éanna Ó Caollaí

Éanna Ó Caollaí is an Irish Times journalist and editor of the Irish Times Student Hub

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