Irish-speaking schools warn of legal action over ‘unfair’ patronage process

School management body for gaelscoileanna says ‘first past the post’ system is biased

Irish-medium schools account for 4.5 per cent of primary schools in the State, though research by the ESRI indicates the level of demand is about 23 per cent. Photograph: iStock

Irish-medium schools account for 4.5 per cent of primary schools in the State, though research by the ESRI indicates the level of demand is about 23 per cent. Photograph: iStock

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The main management body for Irish-speaking schools is considering legal action against the Department of Education on the basis that parents are being “discriminated” against in the process for giving out patronage for new schools.

The department will shortly invite parents to vote for the patronage of 12 new primary schools in Cork, Dublin, Kildare, Meath and Wicklow which will be established next September.

However, An Foras Pátrúnachta, the largest patron body of Irish-medium schools, said this “first past the post” system is biased against those who want to educate their children through Irish.

Irish-medium schools account for 4.5 per cent of primary schools in the State, though research by the ESRI indicates the level of demand is about 23 per cent.

An Foras Pátrúnachta said the department has not yet followed through on a pledge to revise the system to give additional regard to parental preference for Irish-medium education.

The department pledged to change the system earlier this year following a formal investigation into the school patronage process by An Coimisinéir Teanga, the Irish language ombudsman.

This inquiry found the language provisions of the Education Act had not been fulfilled by the department in the process used to appoint a patron.

Complaints

The investigation was triggered by complaints from parents regarding a decision to turn down An Foras Pátrúnachta’s bid for the patronage of a multi-denominational Irish-medium school in the Marino area of Dublin in 2016, despite strong demand among parents for Irish-medium education.

On foot of the investigation’s findings, then minister for education Richard Bruton recommended that a new school planned for the Drumcondra, Marino and Dublin 1 area should be a gaelscoil when it opens next September.

Caoimhín Ó hEaghra, general secretary of An Foras Pátrúnachta, said many parents were frustrated that they were not able to access education for their children through Irish.

“If it is State policy to promote the language and if it is the first language of the country, and parents want it, then why isn’t the State recognising this?” he said.

Legal review

“There is an urgent need to update the patronage process. When parental preference for Irish-medium education is illustrated it should be catered for.”

Mr Ó hEaghra confirmed that An Foras Pátrúnachta will explore a legal review of patronage decisions on the basis that the process is not in line with State policy on extending of bilingualism in Irish society.

A spokesman for the department said it was exploring how parental preferences for Irish-medium education can be further reflected in future patronage processes.

“It will be some time for this matter to be fully explored, including consulting with the main patron bodies, and this was outlined by the department in its correspondence to An Coimisinéir Teanga last April,” he said.

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