A decision by the Department of Education to revise how the school patronage process operates has been welcomed by an Coimisinéir Teanga (Irish language ombudsman).
Rónán Ó Domhnaill, whose role includes ensuring compliance by public bodies with statutory obligations under language legislation, said the announcement represented “an important day for education through Irish”.
The Department of Education confirmed on Wednesday that the policy used to award patronage of new schools would be revised “to give additional regard to parental preference for Irish-medium education.”
It also announced that Minister for Education Richard Bruton would be recommending that a school planned for the Drumcondra, Marino and Dublin 1 area in September 2019 should be a Gaelscoil under the patronage of An Foras Pátrúnachta.
The move follows a formal investigation into the school patronage process by the office of An Coimisinéir Teanga in 2017. Details of the investigation are outlined in the Irish language ombudsman's annual report, which was published on Wednesday.
Mr Ó Domhnaill concluded that the language provisions of the Education Act had not been fulfilled by the Department of Education in the process used to appoint a patron.
Speaking at the launch of the annual report at the Marino Institute of Education, Mr Ó Domhnaill said: "I think the Department of Education is to be praised for this", adding that it has acknowledged "a difficulty with the process" used to award school patronage.
“They are putting their hands up and saying ‘we are going to do something about it, we are going to address the problem and this is how we are going to do it.’”
The 14th annual report published by the office of the Coimisinéir Teanga outlines a number of formal investigations by his office into a several public bodies.
The Office received 638 complaints from the public during 2017, down from the 768 recorded in 2016, a 17 per cent reduction in the number of complaints.
The public bodies which were the subject of formal investigations during the year include: Cork County Council concerning the publication in English only of draft Local Development Plans and official Gaeltacht placenames; Waterford City and County Council which was investigated over the publication in English only of its Annual Report for 2015 and Dublin City University which was investigated over correspondence in Irish being replied to in English. The fourth investigation was into the provision made by the Department of Education for education through Irish.
Reflecting the demographic spread of Irish speakers, the highest number of complaints received by the Office in 2017 came from those living in Dublin (35 per cent) while some 20 per cent of complaints derived from Gaeltacht areas.
Commenting on resistance in some public bodies to the implementation of language provisions on the basis of ‘low demand’ for public services through Irish, Mr Ó Domhnaill said: “It is very hard to say the demand isn’t there if the service isn’t there in the first place. I don’t know how you can judge that.
“The State has recognised in law and in policy that it wants to promote the use of Irish. The way to do that is to provide services for people that is of the same standard as services to people in English. The demand will follow that.”