Northern Ireland news

More work needed in education system to ensure Irish medium sector 'fulfils its full potential'

Conchúr Ó Muadaigh, advocacy manager with Conradh na Gaeilge, Dr Robbie McVeigh and Daniel Holder CAJ at the launch of a report into Irish Medium Education. Picture by Mal McCann
Suzanne McGonagle

MORE work is needed in Northern Ireland's education system to ensure the Irish-medium sector "fulfils its full potential in the years ahead", according to new research.

Conradh na Gaeilge, who along with the Committee on the Administration of Justice commissioned the study, said there are still "many failures and shortcomings regarding the state’s role in the development of Irish-medium education (IME)".

The Irish language advocacy group and CAJ said the research aimed to examine the "effectiveness of the Department of Education and the Education Authority in relation to the teaching of Irish".

It also aimed to establish if the departments had delivered "on their statutory duty to encourage and facilitate Irish-medium education in view of the legal framework and applicable international standards".

The research, carried out by Dr Robbie McVeigh, reveals the sector has "undergone significant growth", but "continued to face a level of hostility and political opposition".

It indicated obstacles faced by IME across several areas include, planning and development of new schools, teacher training and capacity, special educational needs, resources and secondary level IME.

It found the "relationship between the statutory education section and the IME sector is not working to develop IME" and there "continues to be a profound gap in understandings of the meaning of statutory duty".

"For most people in the IME community - and in wider Irish language community - the statutory duty should have reset the relationship between the Northern Ireland state and IME," the research states.

It said the "key conclusion of this research is that the reset between state and language community has not happened in the manner envisaged in the Good Friday Agreement".

"The state is now central to the provision of a greatly expanded - and growing - IME sector but a further reset is required to finish the commitment to develop IME".

Conchúr Ó Muadaigh from Conradh na Gaeilge, said "whilst the Irish-medium sector is correctly recognised as the fastest growing education sector...the unresolved structural issues facing the sector over 50 years since the first IM provision was established has left many questioning the effectiveness of the current statutory duty, and the willingness of statutory and state bodies to pro-actively encourage and facilitate the development of the sector".

"This has been compounded by the openly hostile attitude to IM as expressed by the DUP, who have held the education ministry for seven years," he said.

"This research has confirmed many of our deeply held concerns. Whilst significant progress has been made by the IM sector, there are many many failures and shortcomings regarding the state’s role in the development of IM education. This research calls for a further 'reset' between the state and the Irish language school community, and that this should be facilitated through strengthening of the statutory duty.

"Given recent legislative developments in the integrated sector, we look forward to developing proposals for a new Irish Medium Education Bill in the coming months in conjunction with the IME sector, DE and community stakeholders, as we seek to ensure the sector fulfils its full potential in the years ahead."

The Department of Education and EA had not responded to a request for response.

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