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UUP fury as vote bid over new Irish school is stymied

January 23, 2015

The UUP has accused Sinn Fein and the SDLP of politicising the Irish language after 40 MLAs forced a cross-community recorded vote in a forthcoming debate over a new Irish school.
Education Minister John O’Dowd last month announced his department would be funding a new Irish-medium secondary school in Dungiven for just 14 pupils, against advice from his own officials and the Western Education and Library Board.

It is set to cost £600,000.

Coláiste Dhoire, to be located in Owenbeg on the outskirts of Dungiven, Co Londonderry, will be only the second State-funded Irish-medium secondary school in Northern Ireland.

The other is Coláiste Feirste in Belfast.

Mr O’Dowd defended his decision, saying he takes “very seriously” his statutory duty to encourage and facilitate education through the medium of Irish

“While I note the advice of officials, I am the minister and it is my role to make the final decision on all development proposals,” he said.

Ulster Unionist MLAs Danny Kinahan and Sandra Overend secured a debate in the Assembly on Monday expressing their concern at the decision. They have urged the Assembly to back their call for a review of the decision.

However, 40 MLAs from Sinn Fein and the SDLP – including Mr O’Dowd and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness – signed a petition of concern.

This means that any vote taken by the Assembly can be made dependent on cross-community support.

UUP chief whip Robin Swann slammed the move as “shameful”.

“The use of a petition of concern indicates that those two parties regard the Irish language as belonging solely to the nationalist and republican tradition, thereby politicising it still further,” he said.

Sinn Fein’s Westminster candidate for Foyle, Gearoid O hEara, hit back, pointing out that it was the UUP that was bringing the matter to the Assembly.

“There is only one post-primary school for the entire north of Ireland, which is based in Belfast. In order to provide access for countless primary school children to be taught through the medium of the Irish language, this project falls within the duty of the Department of Education to encourage and facilitate Irish-medium education,” he said.

“The UUP needs to get real and realise the right and entitlements of the Irish-speaking community across the north, instead of seeking to close down access to educational opportunities.”


There are currently 29 Irish-medium schools in Northern Ireland and a further 10 Irish language units attached to mainstream schools which teach around 4,633 children through the the language.

In addition to these, Gaelscoil na Daróige in Derry is an independent school teaching through the medium of the Irish language.


23 Eanáir 2015

Make-up of the new Education Authority is criticised

October 15, 2014

There was consternation at Stormont that not all types of schools are set to be represented on the board of the new Education Authority.

MLAs consented to the accelerated passage of the Education Bill through the Assembly yesterday, as they raised questions about the new legislation.

If passed, the new laws will see Northern Ireland’s five education and library boards merged into one administrative body called the Education Authority.

The move comes after seven years of bitter disagreement over the failed Education Skills Authority (ESA).

Education Minister John O’Dowd said the new structures needed to be in place by next April or the existing five will be on uncertain legal ground.

“It’s a matter of urgency and necessity to meet a very tight timescale,” he told the Assembly, describing the six clause bill as “the minimal legislation required to form a single board”.

But Assembly yesterday queried why a number of education sectors were not to be represented on the board of the new body.

Under the proposals there will be a chairman, four Transferers (Protestant church representatives), three Trustees (Catholic church representatives), eight political members elected according to party strength in the Assembly, and four community members.

Chair of the Education Committee Michelle McIlveen (DUP) said it was “bizarre” that the voluntary grammar sector had not been given a place at the table.

She pointed out that voluntary grammar schools represented 32.9% of post primary children here. Miss McIlveen welcomed the bill generally, especially the new body for controlled sector schools, as a “chance to put right a grave injustice suffered by the controlled sector”.

Alliance MLA Trevor Lunn queried why the integrated and Irish-medium sector had not been assigned places.

“Between them, the Irish-medium and integrated represent a fair percentage and a growing percentage of the school population,” he said. “We will be putting forward measures to tinker with the membership.”

Mr O’Dowd said that he was open to persuasion on the issues, but said it shouldn’t be amended “out of existence”, describing the bill as “finely balanced”.

Belfast Telegraph

Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin launches Irish language drive

February 25, 2014

Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin has launched an advertising campaign in a bid to encourage people to learn and speak Irish.

The campaign called Liofa le cheile (Fluent Together) encourages everyone from all walks of life to learn and speak the language.The campaign, which will run across a variety of media platforms including television, radio, outdoor and digital media, will show how Irish is used through daily phrases, names and places. The minister said: “The Irish language is at the heart of our society. “It is everywhere around us through common words we use like ‘craic’, and also in place names like Donaghadee (Domhnach Daoi). “I believe that the rich cultural and linguistic heritage is something that all of us can share, embrace and enjoy.” As the campaign starts, a new website www.liofa.eu will be available to assist people learning the language.


Game on for Cu Chulainn: Spanish man creates Irish language computer game

January 21, 2014

A Spanish software expert has devised a computer game based on the adventures of Cu Chulainn after falling in love with the Irish language Francisco Blazquez (46), who is from Madrid, first came to Ireland when he was 18 to learn English.

But he was so taken with the Irish language that when he returned home he signed up for classes at the official language school in his native city.The software consultant has been based in Ireland since 2010, and Francisco and his partner Eva Garcia are now set to launch their new game ‘In Cu Chulainn’s Footsteps’ on Thursday at Croke Park. The game features music from Clannad, Kila and Sharon Shannon, and legendary broadcaster Micheal O Muircheartaigh also provides a voiceover for part of the game — in English and in Irish. “The idea is to promote Irish,” said Francisco. “Our aim is to create a portal with many games.”

The game can be played in both Irish and English, swapping and mixing both languages as the player wishes. “It is aimed for children aged between eight and 12, or perhaps slightly older. Players lead Cu Chulainn through a mysterious island, solving puzzles and riddles to find the way out of there,” said Francisco, who has formed his own company, Duineacu. He said that along with the game, players will also find information related to Irish culture including music, literature, sports and legends. It is a 3D adventure played in the third person, driven by mouse clicks or taps on the screen. A licence to play the game is bought online, he said.

Meanwhile, in the school version, teachers can very easily change the content, the voiceovers and the text. Francisco, who has three children — Andrea (14), Iria (12) and Adrian (7) and lives in Trim — revealed that he regularly visits the Meath Gaeltacht village of Rath Cairn in a bid to continually improve his Irish.

For further information see: www.cuadventure.com


How Irish language belongs to all of us on this island

January 14, 2014

I have read many great articles in the Belfast Telegraph over the past several years, but none more interesting than the one of January 9 about the demand for Irish language classes among Protestant loyalists in east Belfast.

In the article, Linda Ervine states: “Irish is such a beautiful language.” I’m thrilled to hear her describe the ancient language of Ireland in such glowing terms and want to tell her “Go raibh mile maith agat” (A thousand thanks to you) for saying so. I know that my fellow Gaeilgeoiri (Irish speakers) on this side of the Atlantic enthusiastically approve of Linda’s efforts and those of her co-religionists to learn teanga na nGael (the language of the Gaels), because it is also part of their heritage.

In the ’80s and early ’90s, Belfast native the Rev Campbell Sheil made his own contribution to the teaching of Irish in the Bronx by making available to the Gaelic League the hall of the Woodlawn Presbyterian Church of which he was then pastor. During the seven years (1984-91) I taught weekly Irish lessons in that hall, I always had easy access to my classroom as the Rev Sheil gave me my own key to the place.

Another Protestant clergyman who also indicated his approval of Irish was Jonathan Swift, Dean of St Patrick’s Anglican Cathedral, Dublin (1713-45), by translating an Irish poem to English. In Swift’s time the Irish language belonged to the people in all parts of the Emerald Isle and it still does.

Sean Mac Curtain
New York


Growing appetite among Protestant, unionist and loyalist people to learn Irish language, says wife of former PUP leader

January 10, 2014

Demand for language ‘soaring’ in east Belfast.

Linda Irvine, wife of former PUP leader Brian Ervine, pictured in east Belfast as she helps bring the Irish Language to the community

East Belfast is not known as a heartland of the Irish language. But that hasn’t stopped demand for classes in the native teanga (language) soaring. The appetite for Irish has increased to such an extent that the East Belfast Mission (EBM) has given a floor in the Skainos Centre to the Turas (Journey) project.

From one six-week taster class three years ago, EBM is now offering eight Irish language classes per week.

This evening at 6.30pm the new Irish language floor in the Skainos Centre on the Newtownards Road will be officially opened. It comprises of three rooms – a classroom, a library and an office.

The thriving Irish language classes EBM offers are connecting the loyalist community with a language that very few grew up with, learned at home or at school.

Linda Ervine, the wife of former PUP leader Brian Ervine, is the EBM Irish language development officer. She said there is a growing appetite among Protestant, unionist and loyalist people to learn it. “I’m very much a learner. It’s hard but I love it. Irish is such a beautiful language, we are steeped in it in east Belfast. We are surrounded by it,” she said. “All our place names, surnames… the list goes on.”

Linda explained to the Belfast Telegraph where her passion for the Irish language began. “I was part of the EBM’s cross-community women’s group and through an art group I signed up for a taster course at An Droichead (The Bridge) on the Ormeau Road,” she said.
“EBM was soon inundated with requests for Irish language courses. I was approached to facilitate the class. It wasn’t widely publicised, but 20 people signed up. “Since then we have grown, and next week we are starting two new outreach classes in Dundonald High School.”

The PUP’s Sam Evans will be among those sharing their Irish language journey tonight at Skainos from 6.30pm. A mural by Mark Ervine, Linda’s nephew, and son of late PUP leader David, will also be unveiled.


Fury as education blueprint ignores integrated schooling

December 6, 2013

Government commitment to integrated education has been challenged after an official business plan failed to refer to the sector.

It is the second consecutive year that the Department of Education has omitted any reference to integrated education in its 2012-15 business plan, which is updated annually.
Alliance MLA Trevor Lunn (right) said it was astonishing that the department dedicated pages to projects promoting shared education and the Irish-medium sector, without mentioning integrated education.
The 37-page report focuses on shared education over three pages and references the Irish-medium sector. It lists targets to promote the debate on shared education, the development of 10 new shared education campuses, and a Programme for Government commitment for all pupils to participate in a shared education project by 2015.
Pupils of integrated schools – who hail from different religious, social and academic backgrounds – learn and socialise side by side all the time, instead of some of the time under the shared education model, it has been claimed.
The ‘rush’ towards sharing resources instead of all pupils’ classroom time risks turning integrated education into a “Cinderella sector”, Mr Lunn warned yesterday.
“It astonishes me that there is no mention in this plan of integrated education. I do not object to shared education, but it’s being used as a means to turn integrated education into a cinderella sector,” he said during a briefing to the Assembly’s education committee.
“What sort of message are we sending out to the integrated education movement when the department’s corporate plan does not mention it?”
Stormont departments are obliged to encourage integrated education under a pledge contained within the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
Tina Merron from the Integrated Education Fund (IEF) said it was disappointing that integrated education had been sidelined in the department’s plans again.
“It is a model which should surely be at the heart of the education system if the Executive is sincerely committed to a shared society,” she said.
Only 7% of children attend integrated schools in Northern Ireland, with the vast majority educated in the State or Catholic sectors. In June, a LucidTalk poll revealed that more than half of those surveyed believed politicians should set a target date for the complete desegregation of the education system.
Department of Education deputy secretary John McGrath has insisted the integrated education sector, which has not been reviewed in years and lacks specific targets, is “confident and stable”.
“Stable means it is not growing,” Mr Lunn said.
“To encourage and facilitate integrated education, it should involve at least a mention of where the department would like to see the integrated sector going.”


You can’t force Irish language down the throats of those who don’t want to learn

October 18, 2013

Memo to Caitriona Ruane: Bíonn chuile dhuine lách go dtéann bó ina gharraí.

That drifts back to me half-remembered from second form Irish class and is recovered through the magic of Google. It translates as, “Everyone is sociable until a cow invades his garden.”
This might apply to the uninvited use of the Irish language. Interest is best promoted without ramming Irish down unionist throats.
Writing Irish language answers – even with a translation provided – to English speakers smacks of driving your cows into their garden.
Perhaps Ms Ruane (right) could be allowed to reply as she wishes, but, to use an English proverb, she might catch more flies with honey.
I learnt Irish as a schoolboy in Co Louth and resented it because of the air of compulsion that underpinned it.
You had to study Irish until you left school for any public sector job and you wouldn’t get your school Leaving Certificate without passing in Irish.
I later transferred to a Northern Ireland state school, where it wasn’t offered and I have always regretted not working a little harder at Irish when I had the chance at it.
I know enough to make a stab at what place-names mean, but I’d like to understand more – traces and echoes of the Irish language are all around us.
My daughter, who learnt Irish at school, is now at university in Galway, where she hears Irish spoken, often as just a “cúpla focal” – cod Irish for a couple of words – but sometimes conversations. She is considering learning the rudiments out of curiosity and to know the origins of words.
It is probably better to let people come to the language through free choice, rather than try to force the issue.
Promoting cultural projects, or voluntary classes, as Caral Ni Chuilin and the Ultach Trust have done, is more effective than replying to English speakers in Irish.
Voluntary classes have attracted people in loyalist areas, like the Shankill and east Belfast, where Ms Ruane’s tactics might get their backs up.
In spite of a history of compulsory Irish in the Republic, the number of Irish speakers has fallen steadily since the foundation of the state. There are now no native speakers alive who aren’t also fluent in English.
The decline can best be addressed by encouraging people who show an interest – not foisting it on those who don’t.


New education body stalled: Pledge for single authority by end of year won’t be met

September 12, 2013

A single education body will not meet a Programme for Government commitment to be up and running by the end of the year, the chairman of the Education Committee has warned.

The troubled Education and Skills Authority (ESA) – which had run up a bill of more than £12m by the start of this year – remains stalled by political deadlock.
Talks between Sinn Fein and DUP continue over the shape of the super education authority, which will replace Northern Ireland’s current five education and library boards, as well as the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS).
At a meeting of the Assembly’s Education Committee yesterday, John McGrath, the Department of Education’s Deputy Secretary, pointed to “slippage” in the ESA timescale.
“Clearly there will be slippage in the 2013 timescale for ESA,” he told the Committee.
The committee’s chairman, North Antrim DUP MLA Mervyn Storey, has said that the proposed body will fall far short of its December 31 target for implementation, set out in the Programme for Government.
The PfG set out a commitment to “make the Education and Skills Authority operational in 2013”.
However, political agreement on the role and powers of the single educational authority appears to be some way off.
The DUP is currently considering a paper from Sinn Fein, which sets out the party’s position on a number of issues which are still stumbling blocks to ESA’s establishment.
The issues still causing political division include:
•Independence of the inspectorate, which inspects standards in schools.
•Who controls the controlled sector, which consists of Northern Ireland’s state schools.
•Issues over Irish medium schools.
•Issues over shared education.
“That’s only some of the issues,” Mr Storey told the Belfast Telegraph yesterday.
“No, ESA will not be up and running by December. ESA will only happen whenever it’s right – whenever there’s an ESA that’s workable and then, and only then, will it come into existence.”
He added: “There’s still issues in relation to the controlled sector and we are still working through the paper sent to us by Sinn Fein over the summer.
“It will take a long period of time to get through that paper and there will be no knee-jerk reaction.”
No one from the Department of Education was available for comment last night.


Irish-medium education sets a high standard

August 6, 2013

IN his opinion piece on Irish-medium education (Comment, July 30), Danny Kinahan is unfairly dismissive of the role of Irish-medium schools in helping to create a truly integrated education system.

He rejects the many possibilities it affords for educational cooperation and plurality. Contrary to Mr Kinahan, I unequivocally state that Irish-medium schools are open to all parents and pupils who seek an excellent, bilingual educational experience. Regarding the question of whether Irish-medium schools deliver a quality education, the previous chief inspector’s report, under the previous assessment arrangements, shows that 83% of Irish-medium pupils achieved Level 4 or above in English Keystage 2 assessments. It also showed 79% achieved a similar standard in maths, out-performing their peers in English-medium schools. This trend continues under the new assessment arrangements.

I challenge Mr Kinahan’s defeatist presumption that the low percentage of pupils from a Protestant background at Irish-medium schools won’t change. If anything, the argument should be made that the percentage will increase, particularly following the growth of Gaelic-medium education in Scotland where the vast majority of pupils are Protestant. This refutes the assertion that there is a lack of interest or a disconnect among the Protestant community. Our view is that demand for this new, vital and dynamic sector will increase across all sections of the community when parents become more aware of the choices available to them. Prince Charles has spoken passionately about the Gaelic language, acknowledging not only its cultural and linguistic benefits. A truly shared vision for education should not pigeon-hole entire sectors and pander to the ‘them-and-us’ mentality.

I challenge Mr Kinahan to play a positive role in ensuring that language is never perceived as a political weapon, rather that it can be enjoyed and learned by all for the many benefits it offers to children – bilingualism, cognitive advantages, greater tolerance and cultural awareness.

Chief executive, Comhairle na Gaelscolaiochta


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