NUI to maintain requirement for mandatory Irish

Long-standing policy has been under review in light of diverse student population

The National University of Ireland – which includes UCD, UCC and NUI Galway – is to maintain its requirement that students applying to its colleges must have a pass in Leaving Cert Irish.

The NUI’s long-standing policies on Irish have been under review in light of the growing diversity of students progressing to higher education.

In a submission to the Department of Education’s review of exemptions for the study of Irish, the NUI acknowledges that its policy has proved “controversial and divisive”.

It also points out the number of students securing exemptions from Irish for entry to the NUI is on the rise.


Some 2,971 students availed of exemptions last year, an 8 per cent increase in just three years. Most secured an exemption on the basis of being born outside the State.

The submission states that a proportion of students and parents do not see the value of studying Irish, and consider that their chances of securing points would be improved if they were not required to study the language.

In light of this, it says the department should could continue to promote the advantages of bilingualism, particularly in terms of acquiring other languages at a time when the importance of language proficiency is increasingly appreciated.

Core subjects

However, the NUI says it continues to support national policies which have been in place since the foundation of the State treating English and Irish as core subjects in primary and second-level education.

As a result, it says Leaving Cert Irish will continue to be required for entry to its constituent colleges which include Maynooth University, NUI Galway, UCC, UCD, the National College of Art and Design, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and St Angela's College, Sligo.

The NUI position on mandatory Irish, which is determined by its 38-member governing body known as the senate, is to be kept under review.

It remains the only Irish university system where applicants are required to have at least a pass in ordinary-level Irish, unless exempted on the grounds of special needs or nationality.

The bulk of the NUI’s submission relates to its policy of providing exemptions for Irish, which has traditionally been more flexible than the Department of Education’s system.

While Irish is compulsory at primary and second level of the education system, the department provides exemptions for pupils with special or additional needs such as dyslexia, as well as those who been abroad for a period of time.

The NUI’s system of exemptions broadly mirrors the department’s, but goes further by automatically allowing anyone born outside the State to avail of an exemption, regardless of how long they have spent in the Irish education system.

Special needs

It also has a more liberal approach to giving exemptions on the grounds of special needs and has traditionally granted exemptions to small numbers of students on the margins of qualifying under the department’s criteria.

In addition, it allows exemptions for students who have been absent from education for significant periods because of physical or mental illness .

The department’s discussion document on exemptions includes comments from school principals who say the NUI’s rules should be aligned with the department’s to ensure there is greater consistency.

However, NUI has resisted this and says any attempt to adopt a more “restrictive approach” to its Irish requirement would be “counterproductive and would be likely to lead to increased pressure to remove the requirement altogether”.

It says the NUI does not wish in any way to create difficulties for schools and emphasises that the granting of exemptions relates strictly to admission to the university and should not be used to interfere in the relationship between schools and their students.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent