Irish provisions receive mixed reaction from language groups


THE Irish-language provisions of the Education Bill were dismissed as inadequate by several organisations which have campaigned for a separate education board for all-Irish and Gaeltacht schools.

But Bord na Gaeilge welcomed the Bill and said it contained important commitments to the language.

These included the setting up of a planning body to co-ordinate the provision of textbooks and learning aids in Irish. "We have been recommending such a body for years and we hope it will be established without delay," the bord said.

But Gaelscoileanna and Conradh na Gaeilge will continue to campaign for a separate board. Comhdhail Naisiunta na Gaeilge described as "vague and equivocal" the commitments to the language in the Bill. It predicted the undertakings would be ignored in practice.

The Bill contains a commitment that a "code objective" of the education boards will be "to contribute to national policies relating to bi-lingualism in society and to provide education through the medium of Irish", according to the Department.

It ensures that "all the education boards will play a key role in the promotion of the Irish language, and undertake an active and dynamic role in the encouragement of the learning of the Irish language in their region.

"In achieving this, all education boards will have a standing committee to advise on the teaching of the Irish language, and the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht will nominate up to half the membership.

"All education boards with Gaeltacht areas in their region must have a nominee of Udaras na Gaeltachta as a member. An education board must ensure that it has an adequate number of staff to provide services through Irish and English," the Department said.

In addition, education boards must "have regard to the desirability" of employing directors who speak Irish. In regions with Gaeltacht areas, the directors would be required to be proficient in Irish and English.

Under the legislation, the Minister may also set up a body to plan and co-ordinate the provision of textbooks and learning aids for teaching through Irish, a long-standing grievance in Irish-language circles.

The lack of a separate board for all-Irish schools was criticised as "disappointing" by a spokeswoman for Gaelscoileanna, Ms Jacqueline Ni Fhearghusa. "It seems to have a very positive slant with - regard to the teaching of Irish in general, and obviously we would be very pleased with that.

"But we are extremely disappointed that the Department has paid no attention to our demands, and those of schools in the Gaeltacht, for a separate board. We don't believe the proposed structures will adequately serve the needs of schools teaching through the medium of Irish," she said.

She described as "laughable" the commitment in the Bill that the education boards "must have regard to the desirability" of employing a director who can speak Irish. Such a vague commitment would mean little in practice.

"If the Minister is in any way serious about the education boards' ability to deal adequately with the needs of all-Irish schools, then at the very least the directors of the boards should be able to communicate through both Irish and English," she said.

Conradh na Gaeilge said the Bill was "seriously flawed" and that a separate board was "essential to achieve the potential development of Irish-medium education in a properly planned manner".