Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The struggle against "Apartheid"

Many people have bridled at an article, "To see real educational apartheid, look no farther than your local Gaelscoil," which appeared recently under the byline of the Education Editor of the Irish Times, Seán Flynn.

Gaelscoileanna in Ireland
That there is a certain misunderstanding, not to say hostility, to Gaelscoileanna is clear from reading certain newspaper columnists. Nevertheless they have grown steadily since the sixties and seventies not always with the blessing of the Department of Education.  Indeed sometimes with their strong discouragement.  They have, I think it may be said, in all cases sprung from the desire of Parents rather than from any desire of the Government - of whatever complexion! Could their attitude be described as "Apartheid?"

The fact that many primary schools were "de facto" Gaelscoileanna up to the fifties tells it own story on Government encouragement. Because of lack of support, such as the lack of text books and lack of staff in the Department unable to transact business in any language other than English. Thus by the early sixties there were only one or two real Gaelscoileanna left.  "Apartheid?"

Parents in various locations fought long, hard, dispiriting battles with the Department of Education before in many cases, after years of struggle managed to wring approval from a reluctant Department. My personal recollection is of the struggle to establish the school in Ballymun and how it did not grow from the work of the "Gaeilgeoir Establishment," but from "ordinary" parents in the tower blocks of Ballymun. Their school is a monument to their endurance as well as their idealism. Not my understanding of the term "Apartheid!"

There were two letters published following the article in the Irish Times. (Gaelscoileanna 'apartheid' 25/10/2012). Today, the following letter has appeared from the Acting CEO of Gaelscoileanna, the national, voluntary organisation  supporting the development of Irish-medium schools at primary and at post-primary level. Its stated aim is "to establish and sustain a high standard of Irish-medium education throughout the country as well as to develop and strengthen the Irish speaking community and culture"

Here is the text of her letter:

A chara,

The “To Be Honest” column by a parent (Education Today, October 23rd) was such a misrepresentation of Irish-medium schools that it cannot be allowed to go unchallenged. Its publication in the Education section of The Irish Times lends it an authority that is very damaging to the public perception of Irish-medium schools.

Irish-medium schools are united by their language ethos, but as diverse as any other arbitrary grouping of schools in every other way. A gaelscoil may operate under any patron body and may be denominational or not. Gaelscoileanna exist in every county in Ireland including Northern Ireland and they serve populations as diverse as their geographical locations; small towns, socially disadvantaged suburbs, rural communities, city centres or a “middle-class area of South Dublin” – wherever the local community has campaigned for a gaelscoil to be established.

Irish-medium schools are open to all pupils regardless of their linguistic and social background or their level of ability. They are as willing and well-equipped as any English-medium school to cater for all pupils’ educational needs. Communicating this to parents is made difficult when opinion pieces such as the aforementioned are published without information of substance on what an Irish-medium school is and how school enrolment policies work.

Parents and patrons alike have been calling for plurality and diversity in our education system for years. To have an inflammatory and misleading opinion piece about schools of a particular ethos published in the paper of record at a time when the Department of Education and Skills has committed to providing for parental choice in the form of the surveys on diversity of patronage runs counter to everything the education community has been working towards.

The column did not recognise that many Irish-medium schools face considerable challenges. More than a third of Irish-medium schools are without a permanent school building; 39 per cent of primary and 36 per cent of post-primary Irish-medium schools. Ten per cent of Irish-medium schools are recognised as DEIS schools by the Department of Education Skills and are focused on addressing and prioritising the educational needs of young people from disadvantaged communities. That the demand for new gaelscoileanna remains high in spite of the difficulties the established schools often face speaks volumes about how parents have faith in the immersion-education model and community-led education.

While it’s true that most of the parents who choose Irish-medium education for their children do not speak Irish themselves, it does a great disservice to the parents of the 45,000 children who are attending Irish-medium schools at present to assume that their decision to enrol their child in a gaelscoil was made for elitist reasons. It does an even greater disservice to those parents who have chosen Irish-medium education for their children despite having neither Irish nor English as a first language, parents who appreciate that their children will start school on an even footing with other pupils who will also be learning through a language that is new to most of them, in a school where linguistic diversity is truly valued.

The story of how Irish-medium schools have grown and are flourishing is one rooted in community spirit and a sense of common purpose and the schools deserve to be celebrated for all they have achieved.

Is mise,

Acting CEO,
Institiúid Oideachais Marino,
Ascaill Uí Ghríofa,
Baile Átha Cliath 9.

This Gaelscoil in Cabra learned that after seventeen years in prefabs the Department has plans at last to build a school for the over 200 pupils! 

Ross de Buitléir of Gaelscoil Bharra gives news of their new school building the thumbs-up 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Adams modestly hits the nail on the head!

A correction to Miriam Lord, a backhanded compliment for Enda Kenny and a short exposition of his philosophy on speaking Irish.

The following appeared in Miriam Lord's inestimable column in the Irish Times (Dáil Sketch 10/10/2012):
    "..Gerry doesn’t like people criticising him for trying to improve his Irish on the floor of the Dáil. He particularly doesn’t like sketch writers drawing attention to his efforts to speak the first language during Leaders’ Questions. In fact he went out of his way to point this out in no uncertain terms to this particular writer during a recent encounter in the corridors. We should be “encouraging” him, was Gerry’s view. It’s “lazy journalism”, he sulked..."
Image: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland
She was talking about Gerry Adams, President of Sinn Féin, who is possibly responsible for more Irish being spoken, albeit sometimes not perfect Irish, in the Dáil Chamber certainly in the past fifty years. Indeed he is possibly the person responsible for the most Irish being spoken in either chamber of the Oireachtas since the late Pól Ó Foigheal was a senator. Hopefully he will be eclipsed by some other deputies and senators, especially those whose mother tongue it is!

However back to the case in point. Mr Adams it appears read Ms Lord's column (don't we all?) and chose to take issue in a well reasoned response which I reproduce in full here:

    A chara, – 
    I am a fan of Miriam Lord. I enjoy her colour pieces and admire her writing skills. I do take issue with her, however, on the matter of Irish in the Dáil (Dáil Sketch, October 10th). 
    For the record I did not ask her to encourage me. I put it to her in a perfectly reasonable way that she should be encouraging the use of Irish in the Dáil. I think all of us should do that. And not only in the Dáil. And not only during Seachtain na Gaeilge. 
    It is a matter of puzzlement to me that Oireachtas members with much more Irish than me do not speak the language more often in the chamber. Of course the English language media generally does not use the Irish language contributions. So maybe that is the reason why many TDs, including Ministers, use only English. 
    The Taoiseach is the exception. He will respond to questions in Irish though his answers are no clearer or informative than his responses in English. Ach sin scéal eile. 
    For my part in my modest way I use Irish whenever I can. With my Sinn Féin colleagues and other Oireachtas members. In my everyday life. With my family and friends. That is what language is for. So, I will continue in my humble way to put questions in Irish to our Taoiseach. I encourage other TDs and Seanadóirí to do likewise. This is not a competition. Everyone who has Irish should use it. Everywhere. 
    – Yours, etc, 
     GERRY ADAMS TD, Sinn Féin President, Kildare Street, Dublin 2.

As someone myself, it has always been a "puzzlement" to me to how people, including those whose cardle language it is, choose not to use it in public fora. I feel this letter from one of our political leaders gives a philosophy of use which is sadly lacking in virtually all public figures in whatever walk of life, political, eclesiastical, business, or academic etc.

Adams has hit the nail on the head. "Everyone who has Irish should use it. Everywhere."

As the old saying has it "Beatha teanga í a labhairt!"

• Féach ar seo chomh maith (Look at these too!)
No Irish for the Irish Parliament - An Sionnach Fionn
In praise of Gerry Adams and the Fáinne - Slugger O'Toole