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.