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09 Dec 2021

Council to discuss dearth of A' Level Irish provision

Department of Education urged to ensure students don't face barriers to learning Irish

Council to discuss dearth of A' Level Irish provision

The controversial lack and inaccessibility of A Level Irish provision in Derry is expected to be discussed at today's Derry City and Strabane District Council's October plenary meeting.

Independent Councillor, Gary Donnelly will bring a motion expressing concern about local Year 13 pupils being denied access to A-Level Irish.

Cllr Donnelly will call on council to recognise the detrimental impact this may have on those affected in terms of their education and general well-being, pathways to third-level education and career choices.

He will also ask the council to call on the Department of Education to engage with local schools, the Foyle Learning Community and others to explore solutions to ensure that students in local mainstream post-primary schools will not face barriers to learning and gaining qualifications in Irish.

In addition, he will call on the council to write to the Education Minister, Foyle Learning Community and post-primary school principals accordingly.

Since the start of this academic year, Derry News has reported extensively on the situation regarding A-Level Irish in the city, described as 'grossly unfair' by president of Conradh na Gaeilge, Dr Niall Comer, and 'an absolute disaster' by Ciarán Mac Giolla Bhéin, the chief executive of Comhairle na Gaelscolaíochta.

Speaking to Derry Now, Cllr Donnelly said he was bringing the motion to council because he was approached by constituents, parents, who were concerned their children were not going to be in a position to study A-Level Irish.

He added: “Having a child myself at meánscoil, I was also concerned things weren't going the right way as regards the provision of Irish in Derry. So, I told the parents who came to me I would bring it up at council.

“The motion will be seconded by Cllr Sean Carr (Independent) and if it is passed, which I have no doubt it will be, it will become the official corporate position of Derry City and Strabane District Council, which will write to the various bodies named in the motion.

“A lot of it is aspirational but it will highlight the issue and bring it out into the public domain. It will also send a message to the parents who contacted me that we are going to push this agenda and try and ensure Year 13 who want to do A-Level Irish, we will back them. We are also going to write to the Department of Education and the Education Authority,” said Cllr Donnelly.

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Last month, Bishop of Derry, Most Reverend Dr Dónal McKeown, said the purpose of the Area Learning Communities was that pupils who wished to study a subject like Irish should be able to attend classes in a school.

He added: “That comes down to both planning and agreement between the schools in question. Thus, if the Foyle Learning Community has not offered that subject co-operation, it would be appropriate to ask them and the governors of schools that are involved, why not. With plenty of fore-knowledge and forward planning, co-operation ought to be possible.”

Councillor, Emmet Doyle (Aontú) said he did not understand how timetabling could stand in the way of a child's education.

In addition, Professor Malachy Ó Neill, the director of regional engagement at Ulster University, said he would be following the issue up with the chairperson of the Foyle Learning Community Network in order to clarify the situation.

Réamonn Ó Ciaráin, the director of education with Gael Linn, placed the blame squarely on the legislative authorities, boards of governors and principals.

In September, Mr Ó Ciaráin chaired an online discussion on the 'critical decline' in the uptake of Irish in English-medium post primary schools. The discussion was attended by 57 teachers who 'felt compelled to seek urgent and decisive action.'.

They called upon the legislative bodies of the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Department of Education and their arm’s length bodies, such as CCEA, as well as the Education Authority, to intercede as matter of urgency to reverse the worrying trends in the study of the Irish language and other languages in English-medium post-primary schools.

Aontú education spokesperson and representative for East Derry, Gemma Brolly, expressed 'wholehearted' support for Gael Linn's position.

She added: “We would also like to reiterate our demand for accessibility to A' Level Irish language courses for our young people throughout the North.

“As education spokes- person and a gaeilgeoir myself, I would like to assure Gael Linn and all involved, we stand firmly, shoulder to shoulder with teachers, academics, authors and Irish language activists in their demand for urgent and decisive action to undo the wrongs and commit to the recommendation of studying a modern language at GCSE Level.”

Cllr Donnelly said his motion would also acknowledge the proud history of Irish language learning in Derry and Strabane, particularly the rich learning experience afforded to generations of post-primary pupils, instilling a love for Irish language and culture in many of our citizens, and widening career opportunities.

“The motion further states:'This council recognises the continuous growth in demand for Irish-medium education in this council area and beyond as reflected in the thriving communities in our local Irish-medium pre-schools and primary schools. Council welcomes the creation of new jobs, career opportunities and pathways in and around the Irish language, particularly in the context of forthcoming legislation'.”

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