Adjournment Debate. - Recognition of Gaelscoileanna.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to raise this very important matter. While I welcome the presence of the Minister of State, I regret the Minister for Education who is directly involved in this matter is not present to hear my remarks.

Last July shockwaves ran through many families when they realised the Minister for Education had reversed her stated policy on gaelscoileanna. New schools in Ballybrack, Enniscorthy, Clones, Whitehall, Maynooth and Trim had been led by the Minister to expect a degree of flexibility in terms of the number of pupils registered per class. The Minister's eleventh hour change of mind excluded these schools from the official recognition they had expected by reference to both departmental precendent and the Minister's address to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Irish Language only a week previously. It is amazing and ridiculous that the Minister should make public statements supporting all-Irish education and then, practically in the next breath, turn around and deny recognition to these schools. Saying one thing publicly and then applying different criteria has become the hallmark of the Labour Party in Government.

The Minister left the parents and schools in an absolutely impossible position by informing them of her decision only a month before the start of the new school year. Having spoken to representatives of the gaelscoileanna. I do not underestimate the enormous anger and frustration felt by them at this decision. The sequence of events which has frustrated all those involved is as follows. In 1986 the Department of Education announced that new all-Irish schools would no longer be recognised unless 20 or more pupils were enrolled in each case. In 1987 it said that all-Irish schools would no longer be recognised unless 20 or more pupils who had not previously attended school were enrolled in each case. However, the Minister is now insisting that the 20 new pupils must all enrol in the same year in the all-Irish school seeking recognition. Up until this announcement the quota could be obtained by enrolment over two years. Schools, such as the one in Ballybrack, were led to believe that would apply in their case. The Minister then turned this on its head, causing outrage among parents and confusion among children.

The State is committed to promoting the Irish language and the Progressive Democrats Party believes this promotion must be centred in gaelscoileanna and the education system generally. The parents should be assisted by the State and not thwarted in their efforts to provide their children with an all-Irish education. My colleague, Deputy Molloy, said the Minister has shown herself to be blatantly anti the Irish language by her actions, and I agree with his sentiments.

The Minister for Education's time in Marlborough Street will unfortunately be remembered for the litany of blunders over which she has presided and for which she is politically responsible. Where are the politics of inclusion which were advocated by her and her colleagues in the Labour Party? I ask the Minister of State to bring these sentiments to the attention of the Minister for Education and to underscore the point that parents who wish their children to be educated in all-Irish schools are extremely angry and frustrated by her actions and by what they regard as a complete about-face on the promises she made to them.

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter and assure her that her points will be brought to the attention of the Minister as quickly as possible. I welcome the opportunity to clarify the position on behalf of the Minister.

This year a total of 14 applications were received in the Department for the establishment of new gaelscoileanna. These applications were in respect of Wicklow town; Sligo town; Ranelagh, Dublin; Cabra, Dublin; Knocklyon, Dublin; Trim, Meath; Waterford city; Whitehall, Dublin; Maynooth, Kildare; Ballinamore, Leitrim; Westport, Mayo; Enniscorthy, Wexford; Clones, Monaghan and Ballybrack, Dublin. Based on the information submitted, six applications initially met the Department's criteria for recognition and were approved. These applications were for Wicklow town, Sligo town, Ranelagh, Cabra, Knocklyon and Westport. The unsuccessful applicants appealed the decision and the additional information supplied by three of them resulted in the approval of their applications. These applications were for Trim, Waterford city and Whitehall. This brings the total number of new gaelscoileanna this year to nine, out of the 14 applications received. The total number of gaelscoileanna is 95, 31 of which have been approved by the Minister. The current position is that five of the proposed schools have not been granted recognition. The applications for gaelscoileanna in Ballinamore, Ballybrack, Clones and Enniscorthy could not be approved for the 1996-97 school year because they did not have 20 new junior infants starting in September 1996.

(Wexford): That is not correct.

In the circumstances, the future viability of the schools was in serious doubt at a time when the numbers in primary schools are falling by 11,000 each year.

(Wexford): The Minister changed the ground rules.

However, these applications for recognition will be reconsidered for the school year 1997-98, early in 1997.

Approval could not be given for a gaelscoil in Maynooth for 1996-97. As well as satisfaction regarding future viability, the other long standing criterion has been the extent to which facilities already exist in a particular area for the provision of primary school education through Irish. The proposed gaelscoil at Maynooth is located near an existing gaelscoil in Kilcock. County Kildare. More than 50 per cent of the enrolment in the Kilcock school come from the Maynooth area and the Kilcock school strongly opposed the establishment of a gaelscoil in Maynooth.

If the promoters of the school in Maynooth wish to renew their application for 1997-98, I will seek the co-operation of the local gaelscoileanna in the area and of the gaelscoileanna organisation at national level to plan the provision of all-Irish education. It must be recognised that a successful gaelscoil depends on genuine parental demand; hence, there is a requirement that a gaelscoil should have at least 20 junior infants, who had not attended school previously, before recognition can be granted. This is not a new condition; it has been in existence for a number of years.

It was not invoked.

The Deputy will appreciate that if a school is unable to provide such an enrolment on opening——

That is what we are getting.

——its viability in the future must be in doubt. Future viability is particularly relevant at a time of major decline in primary school enrolments.

The Minister is fully aware of the effort and commitment which parents and others put into gaelscoileanna organisation. The total number of primary gaelscoileanna is now 95 and a third of those have been approved by the current Minister. Despite what has been said, she affirms her commitment to the recognition of gaelscoileanna in response to parental demand. This commitment has been demonstrated by the large number of new gaelscoileanna approved during her term in office.

(Wexford): She has no commitment to Enniscorthy.

What about Ballybrack?