Pupils at Irish language schools to double over 15 years
THE number of pupils being educated through Irish will increase significantly over the next four years, campaigners claim.
Research from Comhairle na Gaelscolaíochta (CnaG), the council for Irish-medium education, predicts an almost 100 per cent rise over a 15 year period.
In 2006/07, there were 3,660 children at Irish-medium schools. This increased to 5,873 last year - up 60.46 per cent.
CnaG predicts that by 2021, there will be 7,220 children receiving education through the medium of Irish - a rise of 97.23 per cent from 2006.
Its research also shows that numbers are rising in every county and the largest growth has been in Tyrone and Derry.
Pupil numbers in Tyrone, excluding schools in Strabane, rose from 238 to 812 between 2006 and 2016.
In Co Derry, enrolments increased from 190 to 626 in Derry. This was boosted by the opening in 2015 of Gaelcholaiste Dhoire. It became just the second fully-immersive Irish-medium post-primary school in the north when it opened in Dungiven Castle.
Numbers in primary schools almost doubled between 2006 and 2016 - 2,512 to 4,577 - while there were 1,680 in post-primary Irish schools last year compared to 605 a decade earlier.
CnaG said its projections for 2020/21 were based upon current and historic enrolments over the last three years.
The council said this was a fairly conservative method to use to estimate growth, which would not take into consideration either any rise in transfer rates from pre-school to primary or from primary to post-primary or any newly established schools in the years to come.
As a result, it expects the actual growth to be even greater.
The sector continues to bring forward fresh proposals for further expansion.
There are plans to allow a popular bunscoil in Derry to grow in size while others proposals include one for a post-primary school in north Belfast.
In addition, new pre-schools in Armagh, Swatragh and Toomebridge opened this year.
CnaG said it viewed the establishment of the nursery schools as "irrefutable proof that the appetite for the provision of Irish-medium education continues unabated".
There have been several setbacks in recent months, however.
Campaigners voiced concern when they pointed out that the DUP promised, in its 2016 assembly election manifesto, to "tackle the preferential treatment" of Irish-medium.
After that, decisions made by former minister Peter Weir included rejecting a pre-school unit at Gaelscoil na Daroige in Derry, dismissing a bid for a part-time nursery unit at Bunscoil an Iuir in Newry and telling Gaelscoil an Lonnain it could not relocate to the former St Comghall's PS in west Belfast.
He also turned down a plan to establish a pre-school Irish-medium unit at St Colmcille's PS in Carrickmore on the day of the last assembly election.
Since the assembly was suspended, there have been further blows.
St MacNissius' PS in Tannaghmore, Co Antrim lost its bid to switch from the English to Irish language sector while a plan to open an Irish language college - An Bradán Feasa - on the site of a former army barracks in Derry was rejected.