Organisers of Irish language courses in the Gaeltacht have expressed disappointment that traditional summer courses for school children have been cancelled because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
This is the second successive year that Irish colleges have had to halt their plans and a number of representatives said the sector needs urgent Government support if it is to resume next year.
About 27,000 students normally attend Irish colleges each summer, most of which are based in the west of Ireland but with others in Meath, Cork and Waterford.
The colleges are estimated to be worth some €50 million a year to the Gaeltacht areas.
Minister of State at the Department of the Gaeltacht, Fianna Fáil TD Jack Chambers, yesterday announced the cancellation of this year’s courses.
He said the decision was the outcome of an “extensive consultation process undertaken with the Irish language summer colleges sector”.
Mr Chambers said that during the consultation some mná an tí, who provide accommodation for students, and course operators had expressed “considerable health and safety concerns” about proceeding this year.
They were concerned about potential risks for Gaeltacht families and communities arising from the hosting large numbers from around the country during the summer.
“We are conscious of the consequences of this decision for the Gaeltacht economy, which is reliant on the summer courses” Mr Chambers said.
“For this reason, we will evaluate the impact of this development on the sector with a view to progressing an appropriate stabilisation package.”
Irish language schools contacted by The Irish Times said the decision, while not entirely unexpected, could have been made earlier.
Páidí Ó Sé, of Coláistí Chorca Dhuibhne in the west Kerry Gaeltacht, said regulations relating to children’s physical and personal safety as well as accommodation standards had improved beyond all recognition over the last 20 years.
This had led to additional costs and the entrance costs for new accommodation providers were in the order of €10,000, while it cost little or nothing to place accommodation on AirBnB or similar homesharing platforms.
He said a recent recruitment drive did not yield a single application from a householder seeking to supply accommodation for the colleges.
The prospect of two years out of business meant that it was not going to be business as usual next year, he said, and a strategy would need to be put in place by the Government to promote the sector if it is to reopen.
“I do think the Government consulted people about this year’s cancellation, but really a decision should have been taken six to eight weeks ago”, he added.
Last year a €4.7 million fund was put in place to assist areas affected by the cancellation of classes.
A spokesman for the Irish language movement Conradh na Gaeilge also expressed concern over the two-year break, saying there would be a gap in the tradition of Irish college attendance among families as well as among accommodation providers.