Irish Language Education: Discussion

With us today are: Mr. Julian de Spáinn, Conradh na Gaeilge; Mr. Éamon Mac Niallais, Guth na Gaeltachta; Mr. Caoimhín Ó hEaghra, Foras Pátrúnachta na Scoileanna Lán-Ghaeilge; Ms Anita Sheppard, Gaelscoil Ráth Tó; Ms Muireann Ní Mhóráin, An Chomhairle um Oideachas Gaeltachta agus Gaelscoilaíochta; Ms Fiona Uí Uiginn, Meitheal na Gaeilge ATAL; and Ms Anna Ní Ghallachair, Meitheal na Gaeilge ATAL. I remind them that they are protected by absolute privilege under the Defamation Act. If witnesses are directed by the joint committee to cease giving evidence in relation to a particular matter and continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of the evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of the proceedings is to be given and asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against a person or an entity in such a way as to make him or her or it identifiable. That applies to members of the committee also.

The committee will hear presentations by our guests. There will then be a question answer session. We will begin with the Mr. de Spáinn.

Mr. Julian de Spáinn

I can answer questions in English, Irish or perhaps even German.

The Germans are in the Taoiseach's office at the moment.

Mr. Julian de Spáinn

Ba mhaith liom tosú agus mo bhuíochas a ghabháil leis an choiste ar son Chonradh na Gaeilge, ar son an fheachtais AITHEANTAS, ar son Ghaelscoil Ráth Tó agus ar son Ghuth na Gaeltachta as ucht an deis seo a chur ar fáil dúinn inniu teacht os a chomhair agus labhairt faoi chúpla ábhar práinneach a bhaineann leis an nGaeilge sa chóras oideachais.

Is cóir dom beagáinín comhthéacs a thabhairt ar dtús ar an gcruachás ina bhfuil oideachas Gaelscolaíochta agus Gaeltachta faoi láthair. Níor osclaíodh aon Ghaelscoil nua le trí bliana anuas le haitheantas agus níl aon chinnteachta ann go mbeidh Gaelscoil nua eile ann sa chéad trí bliana eile, fiú go n-aithnítear sa phobal agus i dTithe an Oireachtais féin ríthábhacht na nGaelscoileanna i gcur chun cinn na Gaeilge. Chomh maith leis sin, tá a fhios ag an saol mór go bhfuil an Ghaeltacht, tobar na Gaeilge, i mbaol. Síleann saineolaithe áirithe nach bhfuil ach 20 bliain fágtha aici, gníomhairí Gaeilge ina measc. Tá Tuarascáil Choimisiúin na Gaeltachta in 2002, Staid Reatha na Scoileanna Gaeltachta in 2004, Staidéar Cuimsitheach Teangeolaíoch ar Úsáid na Gaeilge sa Ghaeltacht in 2007, Dréachtstraitéis 20 Bliain don Ghaeilge in 2009 agus Tuarascáil an Chomhchoiste Oireachtais ar an Dréachtstraitéis 20 Bliain don Ghaeilge in 2010 ar fad tar éis an bhaol seo a aithint agus an gá le cuíchóiriú a dhéanamh ar an tslí a thabharfar faoin oideachas sa Ghaeltacht sna blianta beaga os ár gcomhair. Is gá na moltaí a thógáil ar bord agus is gá gníomhú anois. Táimid ag lorg thacaíocht an choiste inniu le gníomhú agus tabhairt faoin dá fhadhb seo.

Tá an Ghaelscolaíocht riachtanach chun go gcinnteofar go bhfuil cainteoirí inniúla Gaeilge sna glúine amach romhainn. Tá éileamh ar an múineadh trí mheán na Gaeilge ag dul in airde ar fud na tíre. Chuige sin táimid ag iarraidh ar an gcomhchoiste seo tacaíocht a thabhairt don éileamh gur chóir go mbeidh soláthar dóthanach don Ghaeloideachas do phobail uile na tíre cinntithe nuair atá suíomhanna do scoileanna nua á roghnú ag an Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna. Tá sé riachtanach go mbeidh an t-éileamh seo aitheanta sa leagan deireanach don straitéis 20 bliain don Ghaeilge agus sa chritéir nua do bhunú scoileanna atá an Coimisiún Um Chóiríocht Scoile ag obair air faoi láthair. Níl aon duine ag caint faoi 20 nó 30 scoil nua a oscailt ar maidin ach táimid ag éileamh go mbeidh Gaelscoileanna nua oscailte ar bhonn pleanáilte agus structhúrtha ar bhonn leanúnach.

Ba mhaith liom an deis a thapú le díriú ar Ghaelscoil amháin ach go háirithe. Agus muid ag fanacht ar an gcritéir nua ón gCoimisiún Um Chóiríocht Scoile, osclaíodh Gaelscoil Ráth Tó ar an 30 Lúnasa 2010 gan aitheantas oifigiúil ón Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna. Thóg an coiste bunaithe an cinneadh cróga chun dul ar aghaidh leis an scoil mar go gcreideann sé gur chóir go mbeadh rogha ag tuismitheoirí Ráth Tó a bpáistí a oiliúint trí Ghaeilge. Tá sé léirithe anois ag tuismitheoirí agus pobal Ráth Tó go bhfuil éileamh ann don ghaelscoil. Tá 9 dalta ag an scoil faoi láthair agus, cheana féin, ar chlár na scoile tá 41 dalta do 2011, 39 dalta do 2012, 35 dalta do 2013, agus deich ndalta do 2014. Sáraíonn an diúltú aitheantais cearta na dtuismitheoirí, cearta teanga na bpáistí féin, agus téann sé glan in aghaidh bheartas an Rialtais maidir leis an nGaeilge a chothú agus maidir le soláthar raon éagsúlachta oideachais. Táimid ag iarraidh tacaíocht an choiste inniu le haitheantas a bhaint amach do Ghaelscoil RáthTó.

Ba mhaith liom anois díriú ar an struchtúr atá de dhíth chun tacaíocht sásúil a chur ar fáil do scoileanna Gaeltachta agus Gaelscoileanna. Mar atá molta ag comhghleacaithe ar an gComhchoiste um Ghnóthaí, Turasóireachta, Cultúir, Spóirt, Pobail, Comhionannais agus Gaeltachta ,tá gá le cur chuige úr i bpleanáil an oideachais. Molann siad an Chomhairle um Oideachas Gaeltachta agus Gaelscolaíochta, COGG, a athbhunú mar fhoras reachtúil le cumhachtaí sáinnithe i leith ionadaíocht a dhéanamh ar thuairimí agus ar mholtaí na bpáirtithe leasmhara i gcás foirmithe polasaithe oideachais don Ghaeltacht agus do phobail Ghaeilge. Bheadh bunús reachtúil ag COGG dualgaisí éagsúla, sa bhreis ar na cúraimí atá i gceist faoi láthair, a chur i bhfeidhm, ina measc feidhmiú mar bhord oideachais do scoileanna Gaeltachta agus lán-Ghaeilge; polasaí oideachais Gaeltachta a aontú agus a fheidhmiú do scoileanna bunleibhéal agus dara leibhéal Gaeltachta; siollabas nua a fhorbairt agus a fheidhmiú do chainteoirí dúchais Gaeilge agus do dhaltaí atá ag fáil a gcuid oideachais trí mheán na Gaeilge; agus seirbhísí agus tacaíocht lárnaithe a chur ar fáil do ghaelscoileanna agus scoileanna Gaeltachta.

Beidh COGG in ann plé go díreach leis na fadhbanna sa Ghaeltacht faoin struchtúr nua seo. Mar shampla, i scoileanna náisiúnta na tire, ní chuirtear tús leis an léitheoireacht Ghaeilge go dtí rang a dó chun go mbeidh seans maith ag na páistí bunús maith a chur faoina dteanga dúchais - Béarla - ar dtús. Tá sé seo leagtha amach sa churaclam. I scoileanna Gaeltachta, níl aon rud leagtha amach sa churaclam faoi cén uair le tosú ar an dara teanga, Béarla. Táthar ag cur tús le léitheoireacht an Bhéarla i mí na Samhna sna naíonáin bheaga, nó níos luaithe, rud atá cruthú go leor fadhbanna do chainteoirí dúchais nach bhfuil a dteanga féin sealbhaithe fós acu. Ní athrú radacach atá molta anseo, ach úsáid níos fearr a bhaint as na hacmhainní atá sa chóras cheana féin le hionchur ó na páirtithe leasmhara.

Tá sé soiléir ón gcuraclam nua ardteiste don Ghaeilge nach bhfuil nó nach mbeidh oideachas Gaeilge atá ar chomhchaighdeán leis an mBéarla á chur ar fáil. Is gá go mbeidh siollabas cuimsitheach ar ardchaighdeán ann ag leibhéal na hardteiste chun a chinntiú go bhfuil cainteoirí agus scoláirí inniúla Gaeilge a sheolfaidh an teanga ar aghaidh go dtí an chéad ghlúin eile. Ba chóir ábhar scoile eile, Saíocht agus Litríocht na Gaeilge, a sholáthar le díriú ar an bhfadhb seo. Labhróidh Meitheal na Gaeilge faoi seo níos déanaí sa chruinniú. Ba mhaith linn tacú leis an moladh. Freastalódh ábhar den tsórt seo ar riachtanais daltaí Gaeltachta agus gaelscolaíochta agus daltaí eile ar suim leo an teanga. Molann an Conradh chomh maith go mbeadh an gnáthchúrsa Gaeilge, a dhéanfaidh gach mac léinn dara leibhéal go dtí an ardteist, bunaithe ar scileanna tuisceana, labhartha, léite agus scríofa ag baint leasa as an bhfráma coiteann Eorpach mar thagairt agus ag cuimsiú feasachta teanga.

Mar achoimre ar an méad a bhí le rá agam, ba mhaith linn bhur dtacaíocht oifigiúla a fháil do cheithre mholadh - go dtabharfaidh an Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna aitheantas do Ghaelscoil Ráth Tó; go mbeidh soláthar dóthanach don Ghaeloideachas do phobail uile na tíre cinntithe nuair atá suíomhanna do scoileanna nua á roghnú ag an Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna; go n-athbhunófar an Chomhairle um Oideachas Gaeltachta agus Gaelscolaíochta mar fhoras reachtúil le cumhachtaí sáinnithe i leith ionadaíocht a dhéanamh ar thuairimí agus ar mholtaí na bpáirtithe leasmhara i gcás foirmithe polasaithe oideachais don Ghaeltacht agus do phobail Ghaeilge; agus go soláthrófar ábhar scoile eile, Saíocht agus Litríocht na Gaeilge. Tá tacaíocht traspháirtí tugtha ag an gComhchoiste um Ghnóthaí Turasóireachta, Cultúir, Spóirt, Pobail, Comhionannais agus Gaeltachta don trí mholadh deireanach cheana féin. Creideann muid go bhfuil sé fíorthábhachtach go mbeidh an gComhchoiste Oideachais agus Scileanna ag seasamh leo ar fad go hoifigiúil chomh maith. Is féidir an taoide a iompú. Is féidir córas sásúil aontaithe a chur ar bun don ghaelscolaíocht agus don Ghaeltacht. Is gá dúinn ar fad tarraingt le chéile chuige sin agus aithint go bhfuil fadhbanna ann atá inréitithe ach an brú polaitiúil a bheith go daingean taobh thiar d'ár moltaí.

Agus mé ag críochnú, ní mór dom a rá go mbeidh Mr. Caoimhín Ó hEaghra, as an Foras Pátrúnachta na Scoileanna Lán-Ghaeilge, in ann ceisteanna na mbaill a fhreagairt. Mr. Caoimhín Ó hEaghra of the patron body for Irish-medium schools, will be able to answer members' questions. Mr. Éamon Mac Niallais of Guth na Gaeltachta, who is from Gaoth Dobhair; and Ms Anita Sheppard of Gaelscoil Ráth Tó will also be able to answer any questions that might arise. Gabhaim buíochas leis an gcoiste as an deis labhartha. Tá súil agam go mbeidh na baill in ann tacaíocht a thabhairt dos na ceithre moltaí atá déanta againn.

Go raibh maith agat. Tá ceithre moltaí déanta ag Conradh na Gaeilge. Beidh deis díospóireachta agus ceisteanna againn i gceann tamaill, tar éis an vótáil atá ar siúl sa Dáil faoi láthair. Would members prefer to suspend the meeting or to have Senator Healy Eames continue the meeting in the Chair? As we have the delegation's written submission, we will be able to come back and ask questions on that basis. If we delay the witnesses further, we will be wasting their time. I propose that Senator Healy Eames would continue to hear submissions from the other groups. The vote will last for about five minutes. The Deputies who have to leave will be back in five minutes.

I would be the only member in attendance. We would be as well off to suspend the sitting. No other Senator is present.

I will be guided by the committee. Other votes could be called, obviously. That is out of our hands. I ask members to try to reconvene at 11.05 a.m. Gabh mo leithscéal, a chuairteoirí. Tá brón orm.

Sitting suspended at 10.55 a.m. and resumed at 11.15 a.m.

Táimid reidh anois.

Ms Muireann Ní Mhóráin

I dtosach báire, ba mhaith liom, thar ceann An Chomhairle um Oideachas Gaeltachta agus Gaelscoilaíochta, COGG, buíochas ó chroí a ghabháil leis an gComhmchoiste um Ghnóthaí Oideachais agus Scileanna as ucht an gcuireadh a bheith anseo inniu.

The central focus of my presentation on curriculum reform and Irish medium education is that COGG, An Chomhairle um Oideachas Gaeltachta agus Gaelscoilaíochta, recommends that the NCCA, as a matter of urgency, develops the languages curriculum for primary schools and the Irish language syllabi for post-primary schools to differentiate between learners and speakers so as to protect those young people whose Irish language competence is being destroyed by the existing situation in Gaeltacht and Irish-medium schools.

Under the provisions of the Education Act 1998, the Gaeltacht is defined as those areas which are recognised under the provisions of the Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Act 1956. No official definition of a Gaeltacht school exists, bar the geographic position of the school. Research shows that the State has succeeded in developing an Irish-medium primary and post-primary education system for the Gaeltacht, but that this education sector faces major challenges due to the complex linguistic composition of the community it serves and the absence of any type of support system required by schools if they are to provide excellence in Gaeltacht education. These difficulties have been exacerbated, particularly over the past 30 years, as a result of changes in the linguistic composition of the Gaeltacht community. These changes have resulted in teachers in the majority of Gaeltacht schools having to teach classes, and very often multi-classes, comprised of pupils with varying abilities in the language of instruction of the school. It is also not always the wishes of the parents that their children be educated through the medium of Irish.

The Gaeltacht has recently been categorised in to categories A, B and C areas. A category A area is where 70% or more of the local community speak Irish on a daily basis; in category B areas, 40% to 69% of the population speak Irish on a daily basis; in category C areas, less than 39% of the population speak Irish on a daily basis.

There are 140 primary schools with 9,500 pupils in the official Gaeltacht but many of the larger schools are in category C areas. There are only 40 schools in the Gaeltacht category A region, with 2,200 pupils. Of these, only about half are native speakers of Irish which means there are now only approximately 1,000 native speakers in the primary school system. These children are the future of the Irish language and they need support and protection in the schools but as there is no official definition of what a Gaeltacht school is, nor is there any State policy regarding Gaeltacht education, these children's needs are being ignored as school management strive to accommodate the English speakers in their schools.

Very recent and as yet unpublished research shows that Irish-speaking children going to a naoinrá or preschool will become conversant in English within two to three months, whereas it will take their English-speaking peers two to three years to develop a very poor version of Irish, which the Irish speakers will imitate as they are in the minority. The native Irish-speaking children do not socialise through Irish outside school as the majority of homes are English-speaking. This lack of usage further deteriorates their standard of Irish whereas their English improves continually.

The primary school curriculum, revised in 1999, does not recognise there are children in our schools whose first language is Irish. The only reference to their particular needs is the inclusion of some very basic additional language functions in the curriculum for Irish. It is assumed that all children are English speakers and that their cognitive development, literacy skills, imaginative abilities, etc., will be developed through English.

I have circulated two documents to members of the committee. The difference between the Gaeilge and Béarla in our curriculum is very obvious from the first document, Curaclam na Bunscoile. The first page is headed, An Gaeilge, labhairt na teanga, the aims. It lists those aims as follows: To be able to converse about topics of interest; to participate in social interaction; and to gain an understanding of grammar. Those are the aims of spoken Irish in the curriculum. However, if one looks at the English aims they include to understand conventions of oral language, to expand vocabulary, a command of grammar, syntax, become fluent and explicit in communicating ideas and issues, the central meaning of text or oral presentation, to justify and defend opinions. There are many other aims. It is the same for the written word. The difference with regard to reading skills is that in Irish, children are expected to be able to read short texts whereas in English, they are meant to appreciate various genres of literature. The curriculum is a disgrace with regard to Irish-speaking children.

The delegates from Meitheal na hÁrdteiste will speak about the post-primary level in greater depth but again, no differentiation is made. Professor David Little in a discussion paper some years ago for the NCCA, stated that the failure to make separate curriculum provision for the teaching of Irish as mother tongue and medium of schooling and second language, is linguistically and educationally indefensible.

From 2012, 40% of the marks for oral Irish in the leaving certificate examination are being allocated to the oral exam. This will be assessed in an invalid, unreliable way. One examiner will examine one candidate in ten minutes from which students will be able to get 40% of their total marks. It will mean that those who do well in the oral exam will be able to move from a D grade up to a B grade. I will leave it to my colleagues to speak more about this issue.

I ask that the NCCA would be required to revise both the syllabi for leaving certificate and Curaclam na Bunscoile to give Irish speakers, both native and outside the Gaeltacht, a proper chance to get a decent education in this country. Go raibh míle maith agaibh.

Tá brón orm arís, ach tá vóta eile ar siúl. Glacfaidh an Seanadóir Fidelma Healy Eames an Chathaoir.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames took the Chair.

Molaim tacaíocht a thabhairt do chás Ratoath, más é do thoil é.

That is fine.

Because we cannot control divisions in the Houses, we shall continue to listen to the presentations and postpone the questioning until the whole committee is in place. We do not have much choice. I should have preferred to propose a further suspension, but it is out of my control. Perhaps there will be more votes, so it is better to have the submissions on the record.

We shall hold off on the questioning until everybody is back. That will guide the other members, so the witnesses should not fear. I invite Ms Anna Ní Ghallachair to address the committee.

Ms Anna Ní Ghallachair

Tá mise i mo chathaoirleach ar Mheitheal na Gaeilge, ardteistiméireacht ardleibhéil. Gabhaim an-bhuíochas agus buíochas na meithle leis an gcomhchoiste as ucht éisteacht a thabhairt dúinn inniu chun míniú dó gur athrú tromchúiseach é seo atá beartaithe maidir le siollabas ardleibhéil na Gaeilge san ardteistiméireacht ó thaobh scoláirí na Gaeltachta, na gaelcholáistí agus na gaelscoileanna de agus páistí eile a bfhuil cumas teanga acu sa Gaeilge agus i dteangacha eile. Anois labhróidh Ms Fiona Uí Uiginn i mBéarla ar na cúiseanna is mó imní atá againn maidir le seo.

Ms Fiona Uí Uiginn

I am secretary of Meitheal na Gaeilge and also deputy principal of Coláiste Íosagán, an all-Irish secondary school for girls and a practising teacher. The changes being proposed, to be introduced this year, 2010, and examined in 2012 in the leaving certificate higher level Irish syllabus, have a direct relevance for me and my students.

The former Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Mary Hanafin, made a decision to raise the marks from 35% to 40% in the leaving certificate, and in response to this the NCCA course committee made certain recommendations, which are listed in the paper members of the committee have in front of them, as regards changes to the syllabus to facilitate that.

This included some major changes to the written and literature content of the syllabus, the essay being reduced and the amount of literature to be studied depleted considerably. This was done in order to facilitate the increase in marks for the oral examination, and as Ms Ní Mhóráin has mentioned, the format of this examination has not been changed in any meaningful way to reflect that. Some 240 marks are available for the oral examination, half of them from material students will have pre-prepared. Anyone involved in language education knows that this is not good practice. They will have pictures and pieces of poetry to read out for which they will get 120 marks, leaving only 120 marks for saorchomhrá or free conversation, which was considerably greater in the old exam. The situation now is they are getting 40% of the marks while being required to do less.

The rationale underpinning the change was that too much time was being spent on literature, and it would give the teacher a greater opportunity to developed the spoken language. A similar change was introduced in other European languages in our schools a number of years ago and the result was that there was not a great increase in students' language ability. In fact, we are at the bottom of the league as regards language competence in the EU, according to European surveys. In response to this, Meitheal na Gaeilge ardteistiméireacht ardleibhéil was set up with representatives of Gaelscoileanna Teo., Eagraíocht na Scoileanna Gaeltachta and people from the third level institutions. The reason it was set up was that the changes now being introduced do not reflect the needs of the students in our schools.

In the gaelcholáistí and the Gaeltacht schools they do not even reflect the needs of students with good language ability in English medium schools. Students, for example, in my school who are undertaking study at leaving certificate higher level in subjects as diverse as economics, history, business, biology and home economics, require a higher level of competence in language skills. They need to be able not just to speak, but to read, analyse, summarise and reproduce material. Very often the text books are in English, so they need a very high competence in language skills. This new syllabus does not offer students any opportunity to develop these skills. This is easily appreciated by a mere cursory glance at what they are being required to study in English.

In the English examination, students in Gaeltacht schools and gaelscoileanna are studying Shakespeare, John Donne, Seamus Heaney, Adrienne Rich, etc. If one looks at what they are studying in Irish, it is just not comparable, and is at a very basic level. What message are we giving to these students? Are they to understand in studying Irish, that the language has no valuable literary tradition as compared with another European language? Students are studying literature for their abitur in Germany at a higher level than what is being offered at the same level in Ireland. We shall now be producing a generation of young people who have no knowledge of our literary contribution to Europe. They will go the Continent with no understanding of what we, as Irish people, must bring to the table of Europe as part of our contribution to European culture. A small example is the knowledge and understanding of the very famous and world renowned Ulster cycle of tales, of which they will have no knowledge, and which in the past has been an enormous source of inspiration for many of our finest writers and artists in the English language.

We shall now have a world view of literature dictated entirely by what is on the English syllabus. Meitheal na Gaeilge appreciates at the same time, however, that for many of the weaker students in our schools the over-emphasis on literature in the past was a burden and prevented teachers from giving appropriate time to language skills. We recommend that the paltry contribution of literature at the ardteistiméireacht ghnáthleibhéil, the leaving certificate ordinary level, should be taken off completely in order to let teachers dedicate their entire time to language skills. As matters stand, no change was made to the ordinary level syllabus, which we find very strange, because the greatest problem is at ordinary level Irish in the leaving certificate.

If the Department of Education and Skills is determined to stick with the changes that have been made, we see the need for a new sub-course to be introduced to cater for the needs of the students for whom Irish is their native language - both for those who are having their education through the medium of Irish and for those who are interested in achieving a high standard of Irish and an understanding of the country's literary heritage. We will need people to be ambassadors for our country in the future. We do not need philistines but rather people with an understanding and knowledge of what is involved in the great tradition of the Irish language.

We proposed at a meeting with officials in the Department of Education and Skills in June, the introduction of a full new leaving certificate subject called saíocht agus litríocht na Gaeilge. We received a response from the Minister in July rejecting our proposal. The main reason she gave for her rejection was that it would give rise to the perception that students taking this exam would have an unfair advantage vis-à-vis the CAO points system. No mention was made by the Minister of the fact that a small but very significant minority of students in our schools are being denied their right to a syllabus that corresponds with their needs in education.

Were you looking for extra points?

Ms Fiona Uí Uiginn

We were looking for 100 points, as a new subject, but I shall come to that in a moment. The situation is that our students are effectively subject to a syllabus that does not meet their needs. Quite a number of people here have been involved in education and can appreciate that the longer that need is unmet, the greater will be the erosion of standards in our schools.

We are asking for the committee's support in ensuring the introduction of full leaving certificated subject called Saíocht agus Litríocht na Gaeilge, which will be accorded a similar status in the examination to the relationship that exists between maths and applied maths. We cannot offer them a half-subject or various options because no student will undertake extra work if he or she is not going to get a benefit from it. We should like to remind members that the introduction of this subject, Saíocht agus Litríocht na Gaeilge, is a recommendation of the stratéis fiche bliain do Gaeilge that will officially be launched in the near future.

We will finish with the recommendation to the effect that the Department of Education and Skills in the future should develop a coherent policy that ensures the educational needs of all students, particularly and including Gaeltacht schools and gaelscoileanna, are taken into consideration when any review of Gaeilge and in the education system is being undertaken. If the position of Gaeilge in the education system is reviewed, this will have implications for ordinary students and also for the Gaeltacht and gaelscoileanna. This is a growing sector of education.

Ms Anna Ní Ghallachair

There are many aspects of the changes to the leaving certificate syllabus which fly in the face of basic good practice in language teaching and testing. I come at this matter from a different perspective because I direct a university language centre at which 12 languages are taught. It also has the greatest degree of expertise anywhere in the country in language testing. We are the Irish members of the Association of Language Testers in Europe. To put it frankly, the oral examination and the way in which the weighting given to it are laid out are disgraceful. There are many other points we could make, but it is not possible to do so in such a short period.

Ms Ní Mhóráin catalogued the examples of bad practice in language teaching and pedagogy in this country, particularly in the context of Gaeltacht speakers, native speakers of Irish and students in the gaelscoileanna system. Essentially, among other things, we are in the throes of a by-election in Donegal South-West, a large Gaeltacht area. It is also the area from which I come.

I would describe our objections as a question of rights, that is, the right to be educated to the same standard in Irish as students are in English. That is a right which is not only to be conferred on Gaeltacht students-----

Ms Anna Ní Ghallachair

Yes.

As I also have a background in language learning, I accept what Ms Ní Ghallachair is saying. At the very least, people who are extremely competent in Irish - such individuals comprise the group our guests are defending and promoting - should be able to access, through Irish, a curriculum which is the equivalent of that offered through English. Such a curriculum should incorporate the heritage and literary tradition of the Irish language. Can our guests be sure that when they put their request to the Tánaiste-----

Ms Anna Ní Ghallachair

Which we have already done.

-----it was not refused on the basis that they had confused it with the awarding of extra points.

Ms Anna Ní Ghallachair

No.

Would our guests be happy with the provision of a new curriculum - Saíocht agus Litríocht na Gaeilge - for competent Irish speakers? It is absolutely shocking that only 1,000 native speakers throughout the country have such a high level of Irish. Would our guests be satisfied if the new curriculum to which I refer were made available but without bonus points?

Ms Anna Ní Ghallachair

To answer the Acting Chairman's second question, it would not work in practice. Gaeltacht children and their parents consider the points system in the same way as parents and children in south or north County Dublin. If it is obvious that students are to be disadvantaged in terms of points, they will not choose a particular option. A small minority of parents may encourage their children to proceed with such an option. However, most parents are considering their children's futures and some of them are extremely concerned about the Irish language, while others are not. It is just part of their daily lives and that is the way they see it. If something is to confer a disadvantage on their children in terms of points, in 90% of cases children will opt not to take it. The analogy is to be made with mathematics and applied mathematics where-----

Our guests appear to be going down a slippery slope. The first course of action should be to obtain approval for the curriculum, Saíocht agus Litríocht na Gaeilge, and separate it from the battle.

Ms Anna Ní Ghallachair

We had lengthy discussions with the Department of Education and Skills on this matter. We were involved in a two-and-a-half-hour meeting with representatives from different areas within the Department who listened very politely and agreed with most of what we said. However, we then received a response from the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills which appeared to indicate that no one had heard our arguments at all, the thrust of which was completely ignored.

Ms Anna Ní Ghallachair

Not at that meeting.

Ms Anna Ní Ghallachair

Again, we have outlined our points and sent them to her directly. I know she is very aware of the issues involved but she chooses, for reasons perhaps best known to herself, to ignore them. There are many aspects to this matter which are really scandalous. This is supposed to increase the language competence of students throughout the country. It absolutely could not do so.

Therefore, the position prior to the change in the marks for the oral examination was preferable.

Ms Anna Ní Ghallachair

It was preferable but far from ideal.

Ms Anna Ní Ghallachair

Mr. de Spáinn referred to the common European framework of reference for languages which was developed by the Council of Europe and which is being adhered to by approximately 26 countries in Europe. Ireland has yet to embrace the framework. It has been embraced at third level in respect of Irish. There are examinations at the National University of Ireland Maynooth, where I work, which are implemented not just here but also abroad. I was academic adviser to a group within the Department of Education and Skills charged with examining the position on the development of language education policy. Our report has been with the Department since April 2009. One of the recommendations made was that, in respect of all languages, the common European framework of reference-----

In the light of the fact that Irish is now an accepted language in the European Parliament, has the matter been discussed at EU level?

Ms Anna Ní Ghallachair

Of course. We train translators for the European Commission.

I know. However, has the subject of Ireland not yet being signed up to the framework of reference been discussed at EU level by MEPs?

Ms Anna Ní Ghallachair

It is not a question of being a signatory but of implementing the framework. It is also a Council of Europe as opposed to an EU development. However, it has been embraced by the European Union. I am a member of a group at the European Commission which examines foreign language competence throughout the European Union. Ireland is at the bottom of the table, yet the rationale behind getting rid of literature from the foreign language syllabi was to improve actual communicative competence but that has not happened. The most recent EUROSTAT survey carried out in 2008 shows that in terms of foreign language competence, Ireland is at the bottom of the league.

Ms Anna Ní Ghallachair

It is evaluated in different ways such as through surveys carried out, I believe, by Gallup. I am involved in a huge survey which is examining the position on foreign language competence throughout Europe. Sadly, Ireland has not been able to participate owing to a lack of funding.

That completes the presentations by our guests. I call Deputy O'Dowd.

Deputy Paul Gogarty resumed the Chair.

Cuirim fáilte roimh ár gcuairteoirí agus gabhaim leithscéal leo as ucht na vótaí a bhí ar siúl sa Dáil, ach is am práinneach é don tír. Níl sé sásúil dúinn uilig nuair a bhíonn cur isteach chomh mór ar an gcoiste agus a bhí ar maidin, ach ní raibh aon dul as. D'éist mé leis an cur i láthair agus léigh mé na cáipéisí a cuireadh os ár gcomhair ar maidin. Tá ceist bhunúsach ann i dtaobh an Ghaeilge mar tá teipthe ar na polasaithe a bhí againn ó bunaíodh an Stát agus sin an fáth go bhfuil an toscaireacht anseo.

Tá gá ann suim sa Ghaeilge a mhúscailt i daltaí scoile agus mar sin táim sásta tacaíocht a thabhairt d'éinne a bhfuil suim aige Gaelscoil a bhunú. Ní thuigim an fhadb atá ann maidir le Gaelscoil a bhunú i Rath Tó agus muna bhfuil sé mínithe cheana, an féidir le héinne a fhreagairt cén fáth nach n-aithneoidh an Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna an scoil sin, go háirithe nuair atá tuismitheoirí sásta a bpáistí a chur chuig an Ghaelscoil?

Mr. Caoihmín Ó hEaghra

Is ceist bhunúsach í. Tá polasaí glactha ag an Roinn le tamall anuas nach bhfuil siad chun aitheantas a thabhairt nó nach bhfuil siad chun scoil nua a bhunú ach ar bhonn déimeagrafach, de réir mar a chineann an Roinn go bhfuil fás daonra i gceantar; sin mar a bheidh scoil nua ann. Go bunúsach, níl sé seo cothrom do tuismitheoirí agus a gcearta ná do dhaoine atá ag lorg go mbeidh freastal ar a gcuid páistí in oideachas lán-Ghaeilge. Tóg, mar shampla, cás Rath Tó. Tá suas le 150 tuismitheoir i gceantar Rath Tó atá tar éis a rá go bhfuil suim acu a gcuid páistí a chur chuig scoil lán-Ghaeilge sa bhaile sin, idir seo agus 2014. Ach tá an Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna ag diúltiú aitheantas a thabhairt don scoil sin, mar nach bfeiceann an Roinn go bhfuil "inmharthanacht" na scoile ann. In other words the viability of the school is not recognised by the Department.

Having listened to the comments from An Meitheál na Gaeilge and An Chomhairle um Oideachas Gaeltachta agus Gaelscoilaíochta, we need to recognise that despite statements to the contrary, the actions of the Department of Education and Skills could nearly be perceived as frith-Ghaeilge or anti-Gaeilge. It is definitely unfair of the Department, which is not recognising the special place of the Irish language in our Constitution and elsewhere. We have straitéis na Gaeilge which has been agreed by all parties, but it is the implementation of the straitéis or policies by the Department that we have issues with. It concerns the implementation of parents' demands in response to the question as to why they have not recognised the Gaelscoil in Rath Tó.

Cén difir atá ann idir Gaelscoil Rath Tó agus Gaelscoil Rathchairn nuair a thosaigh sé i dtosach nó aon Ghaelscoil eile a bhunaíodh roimhe seo, go háirithe i gcás ina bhfuil ochtar nó naonúr páistí ann mar a fheicim sa phictiúr. What is the difference between nine students in that Gaelscoil not being recognised, and an earlier school where they would have been? I presume that the start-up numbers will always be low.

Mr. Caoimhín Ó hEaghra

The question is, cad é an difríocht idir Gaelscoil Rath Tó agus scoileanna nua an VEC? Tá naonúr páistí i Rath Tó i scoil a bhunaigh na tuismitheoirí agus bhailigh na tuismitheoirí sin airgead sa cheantar sin chun íoc as cíos agus as múinteoirí. Ag an am céanna, tá scoileanna le seisear nó naonúr faoin chóras ghairmoideachas bunscoile oscailte agus iad maoinithe ag an Stát.

With the same number of students?

Mr. Caoimhín Ó hEaghra

Fewer than nine students.

That is a significant question for the Minister.

Ms Anita Sheppard

Can I give a personal aspect of Gaelscoil Rath Tó? I am a parent of one of the five children currently attending the school. Members of the committee can see a picture of the school and the class from the hand-outs. There are another 149 sets of parents who, just like me, want to have their children educated through the medium of Irish. Our language rights are not being addressed at the moment. We have campaigned for the past two years to try to get recognition for our school. We have opened our school without recognition and we are trying to raise funds, together with Irish language organisations, to ensure that our school will be sustainable for the next year. It is vitally important that we should get this recognition immediately. At the moment, our school is above a shop-front. We have nine fantastic ambassadors who are ten weeks into their education and are already socialising through the Irish language.

To clarify, what did the group do in advance of opening the school without formal permission? What exactly was the journey?

Ms Anita Sheppard

As in the two-year campaign?

Ms Anita Sheppard

Two years ago we were the fastest growing town in Meath, if not in the country. We had the youngest population of under-14s. We examined our draft area plans and the demographics in the area, which looked quite favourable. Unfortunately, however, with the economic climate and what has happened over the past two years, we did not put emigration into that context. We campaigned to create public awareness and get registrations. We also looked at sites in Ratoath, which have been offered to the school.

In that time, was the group working on its own or with the Department?

Ms Anita Sheppard

I had an open dialogue with forward planning in the Department over the course of the past two years. It was all down to demographics.

Why are there only nine pupils if there are 149 other parents?

Ms Anita Sheppard

Originally we had 35 coming in for this year. On 16 February this year, the Department said it would not give us recognition. We must be open and transparent with parents. If one is going to a school down the road that has recognition, one does not have to ask about recognition or where funding is coming from.

Does Ms Sheppard feel the school and the children were managed out by the Department of Education and Skills?

Ms Anita Sheppard

Yes. Basically, we were told that there were places in schools in the area, so there was no need for another school to be established. It is not about places in other primary schools, however, it is about children being educated through the medium of Irish, which is not on offer in Ratoath.

What other Gaelscoil provision is in Ratoath?

Ms Anita Sheppard

There is not any. The surrounding towns are Ashbourne, Dunshaughlin and Dunboyne, but those schools are-----

Is there no Gaelscoil in all of that area?

Ms Anita Sheppard

There are Gaelscoileanna in all of those towns, but at the moment parents in Ratoath have to bus their children to them. They are not given priority places in those Gaelscoileanna. Gaelscoil places in the surrounding towns are for children in those towns, so children from Ratoath are last on the priority list. In addition, there are few Gaelscoileanna places in the surrounding towns because there is a high demand for them. The Gaelscoil in Asbourne does not have spaces and will not have them over the next couple of years. Dunshaughlin and Dunboyne are pretty much the same. They would not have had places for our children this year. I will not say that we were bullied, but we feel we were forced into opening our school. We felt we did not have a choice. This is the education we wanted for our children, but we were not being given any opportunity to avail of it. It is a question of diversity in a town that only has a population of 9,000 with one existing patron and one stream of Catholic schools.

Mr. Caoimhín Ó hEaghra

To follow on what Deputy O'Dowd said, is gá suim a mhúscailt sa Ghaeilge, we must develop the interest in that. We have a set of parents who are interested in ensuring the transfer of the Irish language to their children, which fits in with straitéis don Ghaeilge in the development of Irish speakers into the future. Meanwhile, the Department of Education and Skills has not engaged in proper planning for the provision of Gaelscoileanna. As Julian de Spáinn mentioned earlier, we are not seeking 20 or 30 Gaelscoileanna tomorrow morning; we are seeking a set agreement of planned provision for Gaelscoileanna in the areas where there is demand.

There is huge inconsistency on the part of the Department of Education and Skills on this issue. Practically every Gaelscoil - but not all - that has been formed around the country started with a group of nine, 10 or 11 pupils, or less, and then grew. The fact is that 30 to 40 have been registered up to 2014. The Department's insistence that the school is not needed due to the current availability of space completely defeats the whole idea of support for the Irish language. The Department either supports it or it does not, and in this instance it is quite blatantly not supporting the language. The committee should support this case and make the Department realise what must be done. I will give one example of where the Department is so inconsistent. Not only have Gaelscoileanna been established in many towns, but the Department has now established a second-level school in Athenry, under the patronage of the VEC, where there was only a small group for a second level school. They are being bussed in from all around. The Department should be consistent, as it has established all the Gaelscoileanna in the past. I wholeheartedly support the group and I hope the committee will do likewise.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an grúpa. Tá suim mhór agam sna Gaelscoileanna agus tá Gaelscoil láidir i mo cheantar féin. Tá an cheist céanna agamsa agus a bhí ag an Seanadóir Fidelma Healy Eames. I want to ask about the three surrounding Gaelscoileanna. I know from dealing with my colleague that there is a huge and growing population in County Meath. In fact, people in my constituency are jealous of how many new schools there are in County Meath, although the county must have them because the population is growing out of control and the competing demands mean the schools are provided where the population is increasing. How far away from Ratoath are the three surrounding gaelscoileanna? Is it a manageable distance?

Ms Anita Sheppard

It is. Ashbourne and Dunshaughlin are a five or ten minute jaunt away, but there are no spaces available there.

In terms of capacity, have new schools been provided in those areas? I do not disagree that there is a need for a gaelscoil; in fact, I fully support it. I also agree with all of the points made by Ms Ní Mhóráin regarding the promotion of the language and the curriculum being completely inadequate for those for whom Irish is their native language. As there are three Gaeltacht areas in my constituency, I am very conscious of the importance of promoting Irish to a standard equivalent to English in schools. That said, if new gaelscoileanna have been provided within a five minute distance, what is their capacity, including future capacity? We must exhaust the issue to give us a greater argument to either promote the delegation's case or not, as the case may be.

Ms Anita Sheppard

They are not new but well established gaelscoileanna. They have been in existence for ten, if not 20, years. They might have been extended during the years but not to take the capacity of our register. The 150 students on our register would not be able to gain places.

Are the 150 drawn from the Ratoath area or are they interfering with the other three gaelscoileanna?

Ms Anita Sheppard

They probably would be interfering with the other three gaelscoileanna also, simply because parents in the surrounding areas cannot get places in these gaelscoileanna because there might only be a single stream. We have parents from Navan and especially Ashbourne. It is a case of parents in Ashbourne being told-----

If I could play devil's advocate, would there be a greater case for trying to improve the capacity of the existing three gaelscoileanna which are recognised? That question must be asked. Incidentally, if I was arguing for this in my home town, I would want the gaelscoil to be located in my town. Given that non-recognition of the school is a critical point for parents when deciding where to enrol their child, would there be a stronger case for trying to increase the capacity of the existing three schools? Would that be acceptable to parents?

Ms Anita Sheppard

I do not believe so. The minority of those on our register are from Ratoath. When we were campaigning, we carried out research. It was related to children living in Ratoath and sustaining a school with children from there. Obviously, if we were to get registrations from surrounding areas, we would accept them just as they would accept ours. However, our research and analysis in Ratoath were based on the registration of children born in Ratoath.

Did Ms Sheppard say "minority" or "majority"?

Ms Anita Sheppard

Minority.

The minority are from Ratoath.

Ms Anita Sheppard

No, the minority are from outside Ratoath.

I thought that.

Ms Anita Sheppard

The majority of those registered are from Ratoath.

It sounded as if the minority was from Ratoath which I do not believe is not what Ms Sheppard meant to imply.

On the point made by Deputy Flynn, €20 million has been spent on school buildings in Ratoath in the past five years by the Department of Education and Skills. On Monday a building on which €3 million had been spent was opened. Two years ago a building on which €4.5 million had been spent was opened. In addition, €13 million was spent on the post-primary school. Therefore, we do not have that complaint to make about the Department in building schools in our area. We have often talked about the matter at the committee and Deputy Quinn has often said during debates that the area is exceptional.

In the 2006 census the area was shown to have the largest population increase in the country. The majority of children under the age of 14 years are in the Ratoath area. We have the statistics to prove that County Meath has the fastest growing population in the country. We often discuss this issue. In the course of the debate on school patronage Deputy Quinn and I debated it. He has made the point that when children are born, we should be able to provide the schools for them in order that they can go to school at five years of age. The point I have made to him is that our experience in Ratoath is that the children are born in different areas. In 1995, a time I am particularly knowledgeable about in terms of the figures, 30 babies were baptised in the parish, but when they reached five years of age, there were 120 five-year olds in the parish, the vast majority of whom had been baptised elsewhere. That is how the population changed. By the time the 120 five-year olds had reached eight years of age, there were 140 eight-year olds. The growth of the population could be seen during that period. As Deputy Flynn said, people from outside the area say we are getting all the school buildings and refer to what is happening in other parts of the country. That is the reality, but we can justify this by pointing out that the pupils are there. The parish of Ratoath has four primary schools and what we are discussing is the possibility of providing a fifth. As Caoimhín Ó hEaghra said, demographics are the issue.

A point was raised about the situation with the VEC in Navan. I was very concerned about this initially and that Ratoath had not received recognition, yet there was an issue in Navan. However, I recall that at the time the VEC was seeking to be patron of one of the pilot schools in Rathoath, but, as we had already established the gaelscoil, we considered there was no point in having a competing patron in the town. Navan is not in the area I represent; it is located in the constituency of Meath West. Obviously, the VEC was keen to be patron of a new primary school somewhere in the county. It looked to Ratoath first but moved away because we had established the gaelscoil committee at that stage. It obviously made a case to the Department to be patron of one of the pilot schools. The school to which we refer in Navan is one of the five pilot schools which are in a different category because the Department is piloting that school patronage system, as we discussed in a debate in the House recently, to establish how it would work in practice. Originally, there were two pilot schools in Dublin and now the Department has added three more, in Naas, Navan and one in Dublin. It explains why that did not happen in Ratoath, because the gaelscoil committee had already been established, and why it did in Navan.

From our point of view, we have always said that if there was to be a fifth primary school in Ratoath, we would be pleased to have a gaelscoil. That is the current situation, but, as Caoimhín Ó hEaghra pointed out, the Department's continual response is focused on the demographic question and whether there is a need for a fifth school. Some of the speakers mentioned the existing primary schools and existing space. The Department's response is that there are four vacant classrooms in the existing schools and that is where the demographic issue in the parish arises. I am very concerned, having discussed the issue with the various organisations involved, that it is over three years since a gaelscoil was approved anywhere in Ireland. The committee must raise this issue with the Department and address what is happening in that regard. In the case of Ratoath, we are saying that if there was to be a fifth school, we would love it to be a gaelscoil. On the other hand, the Department is counting the number of pupils to establish if there is a need for a gaelscoil.

Another point must be mentioned. Ms Sheppard mentioned emigration. The other factor was the change in the pupil-teacher ratio. It was 25:1 but is now 28:1. There are eight junior infant classes in Ratoath. If one has a five year old, he or she could be in one of eight classes. As the pupil-teacher ratio moved from 25:1 to 28:1, each of these eight classes can take an extra three children. As that amounts to 24 children, there is an extra class spread across the eight classes. That must be explained because people from rural areas might not have had the experience of eight classes of junior infants progressing through school.

I had a debate earlier with Senator Healy Eames about the position in Galway. I must be careful because she could quite rightly put to me the point I make to her about the broader picture. On the broader national picture, which is the one we need to address with the Department of Education and Skills, why has a gaelscoil not been approved in Ireland in the past three years, and can that issue be examined?

An bhfuil aon ceantar eile ag iarraidh gaelscoil nua ag an am seo?

Mr. Caoimhín Ó hEaghra

Tá.

Mr. Caoimhín Ó hEaghra

Tá suas le naoi gceantair. Tá naoi coiste bunaithe. Cuirfidh mé mar seo é. When a stop was put to the founding of gaelscoileanna, we had nine active committees and they are still active but three years is a long time to be waiting. The provision of gaelscoileanna should not be about demographics. From 1970, or whenever the first gaelscoileanna was opened, to 2008, the Department of Education and Skills was quite willing to recognise the rights of parents to Gael oideachais for their children. Why has that situation changed now? Why have we moved suddenly towards demographics being a factor? Prior to that the Department was quite willing to recognise the right of parents to the provision of Gaelscoilaíochta, if so demanded, if there was a recognised critical mass of parents who wanted that medium of education for their children. I think Ráth Tó is a case in point, regardless of demographics, has illustrated that there is a critical mass of parents who are demanding Irish medium education in that area. That should be the valid point.

The clerk to the committee might be able to correct this figure if I am wrong. Officials from the school building section in Tullamore appeared before the committee some weeks ago. They mentioned the number of places they need to provided during the next five year. I believe they said 20,000 extra school places will be needed for children, and if that figure is wrong I can be corrected. Is that correct? Yes. Effectively, they said that a great number of places need to be provided for children over the next five years. We, as a committee, need to address that issue with them. Why could a substantial number of those places not be provided through the gaelscoileanna movement? We do not want to be back here in four years time only to discover that the position is similar to that which pertains now and that various changes have occurred but that no more gaelscoileanna have been provided. That is the issue, and we need to get to the nub of it.

I mentioned to the Chairman that a proposal could be made as to how we could do that. Will I put forward that proposal now?

Not now but shortly. I want to bring in Deputy O'Shea-----

I will come back in then.

-----as he was due to speak as the lead spokesperson of the Labour Party and following that I will sum up some of the proposals that have been put forward. Deputy Wallace's proposal would be seen as an amendment to a proposal by Conradh na Gaeilge. We will discuss it and the Deputy can put forward the proposal in about five minutes.

I will have to be excused as I have to attend the meeting of the Joint Committee on European Affairs, but I will be back.

Ceart go leor. An Teachta Ó Sé.

Tá brón orm nach raibh mé anseo chun an méid a bhí le rá ag na dreamanna éagsúla a chloisteáil. Glacaim leis an méid a bhí le rá ag mo chomhleacaí, an Teachta Wallace, maidir le cuireadh a thabhairt d'oifigigh ón Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna freastal ar cruinniú den chomhchoiste chun fáil amach an bhfuil polasaí sa Roinn gan gaelscoileanna nua a ceadú nó cad go díreach atá ag tarlú sa Roinn faoi láthair. Ní bheimid in ann déileáil i gceart leis an ábhar seo go dtí go bhfuil eolas againn cad go díreach atá ar siúl. Is deacair aon dealramh a chur ar an scéal ach go bhfuil polasaí deimhneach ann gan cead a thabhairt do gaelscoileanna nua dul ar aghaidh. Níl scéal cloiste agam faoi na nithe eile mar is ar éigin go bhfuil na haighneachtaí léite agam. Más rud é go bhfuilimid ábalta cás na ngaelscoileanna a bhrú ar aghaidh, beidh tairbhe ar an gcruinniú seo. B'fhéidir gur fearr gan dul i ngleic le gach rud agus díriú ar an gcruinniú sin le hoifigigh na Ranna a shocrú go luath. Bheadh rath ar an obair sin.

Faoi mar a dúirt tú the officials apologised for not being able to attend today. We hope to bring them in in the new year and put these questions to them.

On the points made, I note that not too many questions were put to delegates of ATAL or the COGG. To summarise, reference was made to COGG and to the Comhchoiste um Ghnóthaí Oideachais agus Scileanna. On the list of points made by Ms Ní Mhóráin, there were so many points made that we cannot put them-----

We did not have questions on this yet. We were only dealing with Ratoath.

I thought the Deputy was talking about all of them.

No. It is important because-----

-----it has put a great deal of work into this.

It would be normal practice to deal with the three together but that is a fair point and it has clarified the issue for me.

The Deputy is saying that we were solely talking about Ratoath all this time.

What about the other issues regarding the proposals put by Conradh na Gaeilge?

If I may, I would say-----

I will guided by the members at this point. It is now 12.05 p.m. Do we want set a time limit for the remainder of the meeting?

We do not have a problem in that respect if we can agree, in principle, with what Conradh na Gaeilge is seeking and where its recommendations have a political import, the Minister could circulate the-----

We can take some comments and questions on the other two groups.

I am just saying that Conradh na Gaeilge-----

On the recommendations of Conradh na Gaeilge, a few points arise, to which Deputy Wallace referred. There are four recommendations from Conradh na Gaeilge. Three of them were passed by the Joint Committee on Tourism, Sport, Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs in regard to the 20-year strategy for the Irish language. Given that at approximately 1.15 p.m. statements will be taken in the Dáil on the report of the 20-year strategy for the Irish language, it would be useful if there was no contention among members of the committee about this and, in line with our sister committee, that we could adopt the recommendations made.

It would be a good idea to have some discussion on them. I am generally supportive of them but some serious issues and frustrations have been expressed by the group here.

Which group? We are talking purely about the recommendations made by Conradh na Gaeilge. We are talking about the recommendations in regard to Irish language medium, the recommendations on education planning and on Irish arts and literature being a subject at second level. We will leave aside the discussion on Gaelscoil Ráth Tó for a second.

Molaim iad sin.

Aontaímid leo sin.

Three recommendations have been adopted by our sister committee. On behalf of the members of the committee, I ask if this committee would adopt the recommendations in advance of the debate this afternoon?

My suggestion relates to a combination of the first two, as it relates to gaelscoileanna throughout Ireland.

Yes. I will take the Deputy's proposal in a second as part of proposal regarding Ratoath.

It ties in with the other two on the other page, but it is the first two on this page that we need to work on. The first one is in regard to the establishment of schools in new locations - both of those proposals are connected. It relates to locations all over Ireland. We cannot be seen to be, as I said in the earlier session, only talking about a school in Galway. We do not want to have to meet here every time a problem arises with a school. We want to fix matters by way of a policy that would apply throughout the country.

Okay. Therefore, the Deputy wants to amend both of them?

Okay. We will leave that for a moment. We will turn to the recommendation, which is the same as recommendation 7, that COGG be reconstructed as a statutory body and also the issue of there being a new school subject entitled "arts and literature". Is it agreed, in line with our sister committee, that this committee seconds or also adopts those recommendations?

I have an issue with it being a statutory body in that we would be creating another quango.

It is not the way to go.

The Joint Committee on Tourism, Sport, Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs passed that recommendation.

We do not have a problem with trying to find a solution in terms of wording, but we could not agree to another quango. That is our position, but it does not mean we do not support what the witnesses want.

The thing is to find a way of doing that without a quango.

Mr. Julian de Spáinn

COGG has already been established, so we are just talking about giving it more responsibilities. It would not be a case of creating a new quango - it would have the same name but new responsibilities.

Mr. de Spáinn did call it a statutory body, which is a whole other ball game. We are interested in supporting the aims of Conradh na Gaeilge, but to go down the road of a statutory body is totally against our policy right now given the state of the economy and of the country. Let us consider developing the witnesses' ideas and aims, but without that.

COGG was set up under the Education Act - is that correct? It does have a statutory existence. This is just a question of reconstituting something that is already in existence.

Mr. Julian de Spáinn

Yes. It is a question of reconstruction over 20 years. The plan for the Irish language is a 20-year plan; we are not saying it has to happen tomorrow. We are saying it should be part of the plan for the future.

Mr. Éamonn Mac Niallais

As somebody from the Gaeltacht - maybe the only person from the Gaeltacht, although Ms Ní Ghallachair is also from the Gaeltacht but is living in Dublin - I will point out that we have had our own Department of Education since 1922. I am a native Irish speaker but my rights are not recognised by this Department of Education and Skills. That is unbelievable. I will give a simple example. Irish reading is not done in English-language primary schools until year 1 or 2, but my child must learn English from junior infants. There is no recognition that my child is a native speaker.

Are we going back to the Ratoath issue?

Mr. Éamonn Mac Niallais

No, I am going back to the issue of COGG and why it needs these extra powers.

Is Mr. Mac Niallais's child attending a gaelscoil?

Mr. Éamonn Mac Niallais

My child is attending a Gaeltacht school, but there is no recognition for any such thing as a native speaker in the curriculum.

Is Mr. Mac Niallais saying his child must learn English in the Gaeltacht school?

Mr. Éamonn Mac Niallais

Yes. Common language practice is that one learns one's mother language first when one goes to school. For example, in English-medium primary schools they do not start on Irish reading and so on until first or second class, but in the Gaeltacht schools, they start English reading and so on in junior infants.

I understand Mr. Mac Niallais's concern about his rights. I used to be a múinteoir bunscoile and my understanding was that Gaeilge was the first language and one's rights were enshrined in the Constitution. I am confused about one thing and perhaps Deputy O'Shea could clarify this for us. Am I correct in stating that COGG is currently constituted under the Education Act?

Ms Muireann Ní Mhóráin

I will answer on behalf of COGG. Yes, but we are only a body of people. Some people call us a ministerial whim. We have no statutory powers and we are very much powerless in the way we were included in the Education Act. That is what we are. A body of people may be set up and may do this or that, and the Minister may-----

Does COGG have the same status as the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment?

Ms Muireann Ní Mhóráin

No.

Does it have the same status as a parents' association?

Ms Muireann Ní Mhóráin

A school parents' association?

The National Parents Council has a function that is enshrined in the Education Act.

Ms Muireann Ní Mhóráin

I could be wrong, but I do not think the NPC is actually a statutory body.

Ms Muireann Ní Mhóráin

I imagine we are on the same level.

The NPC has a considerable impact. This is a major issue and something we should revisit. We need to put more thought into it. I am listening to what the witnesses are saying and, rather than just whitewashing it and ruling it out of order, we need to discuss it more. Fine Gael policy on the broader issue is not to set up any more quangos. There is a major economic crisis.

For the purpose of clarification, the recommendation was passed by another committee that included Fine Gael members and was not pushed to a vote, which means that Fine Gael has already consented to it.

We need to talk about it more.

In case we cannot get to the debate today, the issue is that the witnesses want COGG to be put on a statutory footing and want a recommendation that it be given more powers and more clout. That is what is being put forward. If we cannot recommend that this be done in the 20-year strategy on the Irish language, can we at least ask that it be investigated? That might resolve the matter. A recommendation has already been made by another committee that is feeding into the 20-year strategy.

The issue raised by Mr. Mac Niallais about the year in which Irish reading is introduced in Gaeltacht schools is a curricular matter for the Department. It is not necessarily a matter for COGG. One of the things I recall about COGG is that it took forever to set it up. The provision was in the Act but a lot of time passed by before it was established. We may be starting to straddle two areas here. I take the point about investigation, and there is also the issue, in principle, of extending the powers of COGG. That may be done statutorily or otherwise. There is no division here in principle about extending its powers, but we are getting bogged down in the discussion on how to do it.

In that case, I ask the clerk to note that the committee noted the recommendations made by Conradh na Gaeilge and broadly agreed with the sentiments expressed.

It is important that we find out exactly what the other committee agreed to-----

I am thinking about the 20-year strategy.

-----because there is no point in our being at variance with it.

Mr. Julian de Spáinn

That is the exact wording that was agreed by the other committee.

This is timely in view of the fact that the 20-year strategy is being debated today. If we wait for clarification down the line, the recommendations will become irrelevant. Acknowledging that we agree with the sentiment is in itself useful for any Deputies and, later, Senators who wish to speak on this issue. Is that agreed?

We can agree to note it, as the Chairman suggested.

Are we just noting it?

I preferred the Chairman's suggestion that we recommend it be investigated. That is more rigorous from the committee because it means something must be done. To note it is passive.

We have noted that we agree with the sentiments and we have noted the recommendation. We are not noting only that it has been said but that we broadly agree with the sentiment. We are not going any further now in terms of investigating it because it will be too late. What people are seeking is good will from this committee while the issue is being debated. That would be achieved by what I am suggesting.

A Bill is forthcoming.

It will be sent to the Minister as a matter of course anyway.

Tá brón orm ach caithfidh me imeacht anois.

Ceart go leor.

I want to get to some of the other recommendations; I presume they will be non-contentious as well.

Ms Anna Ní Ghallachair

If I could interrupt the Chairman, I would like to provide a quick clarification. One of the advantages and reasons for learning other languages is that there are some concepts that are not translatable from one language to the other. "Saíocht" is not really translatable as "arts"; it is the attendant culture of a language. The title of the course should remain in Irish as "Saíocht na Gaeilge". There is no single word that translates it. It is culture and heritage.

There were two key points in the presentation, that saíocht agus litríocht na Gaeilge should made available immediately and that gaelscoileanna be included in reviews, because up to now they have not been.

Ms Anna Ní Ghallachair

Yes, and Gaeltacht schools.

On that we have the broad agreement of the committee. With regard to Saíocht agus Litríocht na Gaeilge, the proposal is to make the recommendation as Gaeilge - using the Irish wording only.

Does the committee concur precisely with the wording?

What I am picking up today is that there is major frustration that native speakers, of whom there are only around 1,000 in the country-----

Ms Muireann Ní Mhóráin

At primary level. There are far more native speakers generally, but within the primary school system there are approximately 1,000.

Ms Ní Mhóráin's view is that what is offered by the Irish language curriculum at leaving certificate level is destroying that language culture and richness. That is very serious.

Ms Muireann Ní Mhóráin

The process begins much earlier and goes the whole way through from primary to post-primary. From the day children like those of Mr. Mac Niallais's walk into a school they are taken over by the dominance of the English language. Many Gaeltacht schools do not believe they have the right to insist on teaching through Irish only. As the local school, they believe they must provide everything for everybody which is impossible especially when most of these schools are tiny two-teacher schools. Seventy per cent of them have three or fewer teachers.

I have a second concern although I totally support the need for the richness of the language and the literary heritage to be transferred to the native speakers with the new subjects in the Saíocht agus Litriocht na Gaeilge programme.

I have some questions on that point.

May I finish my second question? Do Conradh na Gaeilge, Meitheal na Gaeilge and COGG represent all the other Irish speakers? In the Galltacht there are many people trying to learn Irish which is where the real difficulty lies. We have done terrible work ar an job sin.

Mr. Julian de Spáinn

In our presentation we mentioned the need for the saíocht agus litríocht course and also that the course all other students follow should be based on the common European framework for learning languages. Currently it is not and we are not teaching our students correctly in the schools that function through the medium of English. If the course was based on that framework that would be a huge step forward. We should do that not only for Irish but we should apply it to French and German. We are at the bottom of the league and need to look at language learning across the board.

I will clarify my point. I supported the Minister when she introduced the proposal for 40% of marks to go to the oral exam in the leaving certificate from 2012. What I did not support was the notion that the oral would not be mandatory for the junior certificate. That is an appalling thing to have done to the language. All is left to the school and the oral is not to be enforced. Fewer than 5% of schools throughout the country offer an oral examination at junior certificate level because there is a union issue around the payment of teachers and examiners. The Minister has done a disservice to the language by allowing 40% for the oral in the leaving certificate without building children up towards that by means of the junior certificate.

I am concerned, listening to the delegates. I take their point about the framework for learning languages properly and that this should apply to all languages. After 13 or 14 years of language learning in Irish the large body of children here come out with very poor acquisition. I am not talking about the Gaeltacht, gaelscoileanna or native speakers -----

That is a broader issue. I ask the Senator to keep to specifics.

I know it is a broader issue. Is it the delegates' view that the way in which children are to be taught and the 40% to be allocated for the oral examination was intended to appease them and is merely window dressing? The delegates did not need it, being orally competent in any case.

Ms Anna Ní Ghallachair

I will respond to that, in part. There are all kinds of issues surrounding language teaching, in particular, the teaching of the Irish language in this country, which need to be addressed. Among them is teacher training which is seriously deficient However, in this country we are obsessed with the points race and examinations and very often the notion of assessment is overlooked. Assessment is what guides teaching and learning. As a group, Meitheal was not unhappy with the notion of 40% for the oral examination in the leaving certificate. However, when we saw what was to make up that 40% we were appalled. In brief, one of the parts of the test requires the student to recite a poem in Irish. We know that at the end of the nineteenth century people had to recite pieces from Cicero and Livy and so on for examinations. To say this flies in the face of good practice is a total understatement. Most people here would not feel comfortable reciting a poem in English or any other language and the notion that this is part of a leaving certificate oral examination is patently absurd.

Another part of the exam requires the student to provide pictures 18 months before the examination. In Maynooth we have a great deal of expertise in language testing. What one is supposed to do with pictures is to provide them roughly two minutes before the student is to speak about them. Otherwise they learn something off by heart before they come to the exam. Between the poetry and the pictures they will be able to learn off half, or 20%, before they actually enter the examination room and this part will not reveal anything about what they know, in terms of their communicative language ability. One will not know what they are able to do or how they are able to perform in a language.

The same criticisms are made about the current leaving certificate.

Ms Anna Ní Ghallachair

Exactly, but it is exacerbated because now 40% of the marks are to be allocated. The percentage was much less before. There are all kinds of problems. A report has been with the Department of Education and Skills since April 2009 that addresses these issues. I assume it is sitting on a shelf somewhere.

Who produced that report?

Ms Anna Ní Ghallachair

I was the academic adviser on it but it was actually produced by the Department of Education and Skills, on foot of a report presented by an expert group on languages from the Council of Europe at the invitation of the former Minister, Deputy Mary Hanafin. She invited an expert group to come to Ireland to draft a language policy profile which has been done for most other countries in Europe. It recommended that a language education policy be drafted for Ireland. There were about eight of nine of us in the group and I was invited to participate as academic adviser. Most others were members of the Department of Education and Science, as it then was, and the NCCA. We put a great deal of work into putting together the report, a draft of which has been with the Department for the past year and eight or nine months.

On that issue, only two weeks ago I heard there is a danger that the European Parliament is to drop Irish as an official language.

Ms Anna Ní Ghallachair

I have not heard that.

It is on the cards.

The point is taken. Deputy Wallace indicated she wished to speak.

What point are we at with regard to the motion?

In summary, this is not a new recommendation but has existed for a couple of years. It proposes that students who have a good proficiency in Irish should be able to develop and enhance their language proficiency rather than study the simplified material that, rightly, has been criticised. In that context, having a new school subject, Saíocht agus Litríocht na Gaeilge, makes perfect sense and was passed by a committee without any votes. It is not a contentious issue and is merely a recommendation. It is not binding. I put it to the members that the recommendation of using Saíocht agus Litríocht na Gaeilge rather than Arts, Irish Arts and Literature, be passed by the committee. Is that agreed? Agreed.

We move to the two items mentioned at the start. Deputy Wallace tabled an amendment and has clarified that it refers to recommendations A and B. I shall read out the wording. We are stuck for time but if members wish to return to this they can.

"That this committee, noting the situation where no gaelscoil has been approved for the past three years, calls on the Minister for Education and Skills to review and, if necessary, amend the policy regarding the approval of start-up gaelscoileanna".

It is to ensure that the problem in Ratoath is not repeated anywhere else in the country and to have the Department review the way in which we arrived at this point.

It takes on board the specific situation of Gaelscoil Rath Tó but also the fact there are other gaelcoileanna around the country which have similar problems. Shall I read the amendment again?.

The wording is, "That this committee, noting the situation where no gaelscoil has been approved for the past three years, calls on the Minister for Education and Skills to review and, if necessary, amend the policy regarding the approval of start-up gaelscoileanna".

I would have no problem if it was even broader than that because parents should have a choice. The same principle should apply.

I examined the wording last night with some of the organisations involved. It seems when the original wording was referred to the Irish language committee, it was changed and that it was related to the issue of new schools being established. If we hold that we would like to see an Irish school at every crossroads, it will not become a reality.

If that is what people want, that is what they should have. Parents must have a choice, whatever it may be.

We can be romantic about, if the Deputy wishes.

It is not romantic.

Otherwise, we can do something about the issue. I am concerned that we will be back here in four years time and that there will still be no approved gaelscoil in Ireland. That is what we must be careful to avoid.

I support what the Deputy is suggesting but a broader principle is at stake. Parents want choice.

We should discuss the motion and note that Deputy O'Dowd, on behalf of his party, has specified that parental choice is one of the key reasons it should be passed.

Yes. I believe in the primacy of parental choice.

This relates to the emergence of gaelscoileanna and Educate Together schools which should be built in.

It is not contained in the wording, but it will be noted underneath as a key factor.

Ms Muireann Ní Mhóráin

Can Gaeltacht schools be protected in such a way that parents in the Gaeltacht would be entitled to seek an all-Irish education for their children also?

I will come back to Ms Ní Mhóráin.

Ms Muireann Ní Mhóráin

It is the same thing.

No, it is not. We should present a different proposal. What Ms Ní Mhóráin has to say is important. However, there was a group from Tullamore before the committee two weeks ago. We must consider establishing all of these schools in the next five years. If we are still here in five years time and there are no gaelscoileanna, we will have failed in what we are trying to achieve. Therefore, we must be very careful with regard to the wording such that it relates to anywhere where a new school is being established. Why should this not be the case?

As I understand it, it was Department policy, as seen in the Educate Together school and VEC in Gorey, to consult parents to establish what they wished and that it decided to give patronage to the VEC. That is what happened. If the majority of parents in an area wish to see an Irish language school established, we have no right to stand in their way.

Ms Anita Sheppard

I wish to clarify a point. Once there is a proven demand for a school, parents should be heard. Regarding the VEC, when Gaelscoil Ráth Tó initially started its campaign, it approached the VEC to seek to be given patronage. County Meath VEC was pleased to do this for us. However, throughout the first year and following our application to the Department of Education and Skills, it would not accept the application with the VEC as a legal patron.

The legislation has since been changed.

Ms Anita Sheppard

It can happen now, but we were told time and again throughout forward planning-----

That Bill is going through the Dáil. We are dealing with that issue.

Ms Anita Sheppard

We had no choice but to move on.

This would provide a vehicle of support for the proposal. It is possible to have joint patrons, for example, the VEC could be joint patron with the gaelscoil. There would be no problem in this regard.

Ms Anita Sheppard

Had the VEC come back to us at any stage in the past year and indicated that we could receive recognition-----

The Bill has not been passed. It is being considered by the Dáil.

Two people have indicated a wish to speak.

That point needs to be explained and understood. Ms Sheppard is presenting a good idea, but, as Deputy O'Dowd has clarified, the legislation has not passed through the Dáil.

That is a separate discussion.

The others are pilot projects, but when the legislation has been passed, that will be possible.

If people wish to discuss the matter afterwards, they may do so. I call on Mr. de Spáinn and Mr. Ó hEaghra to speak briefly.

Mr. Julian de Spáinn

Were two recommendations to be amalgamated into one - I understand the reasoning behind the proposal - I would prefer to refer to the situation in Ratoath because it is the only gaelscoil which has been set up without recognition, a matter that must be addressed at some stage. This should be mentioned in whatever wording is passed to the Minister.

There is no problem in indicating it is one of the issues that arises. In fairness to Deputy O'Dowd, he referred to the position in Gorey.

The same principle applies. The State should not dictate to parents.

Let me go through it one more time.

I indicate my support for Ms Ní Mhóráin's point on Gaeltacht schools.

We will get to it. The Deputy's support has been noted. Before we come to Mr. Ó hEaghra, I propose the wording, "This committee, noting the situation pertaining to Gaelscoil Ráth Tó and the fact that no gaelscoil has been approved for the past three years, calls on the Minister for Education and Skills to review and, if necessary, amend the policy regarding the approval of start-up gaelscoileanna throughout the country". Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. Caoimhín Ó hEaghra

I agree with the wording. The committee has raised the point about the parental survey and I agree fully in this regard. However, it is slanted towards organisations which have more resources in terms of manpower and finances, as illustrated in Gorey.

I do not accept that, but I do not wish to go there. My point is that, ultimately, primacy must be with parents. That is the fundamental principle. If that is what they want, they should have it.

Mr. Caoimhín Ó hEaghra

I agree.

I cannot water it down. The members of the delegation should be pleased because it would vindicate their rights and those of every parent to have a choice, to which they are entitled. That is what it is all about. The power should rest with parents, not anyone else.

Mr. Caoimhín Ó hEaghra

With regard to gaelscoileanna, the way the proposal is phrased is correct, but what was implemented in Gorey was slanted towards larger organisations.

The key issue is whether the parents had a choice. My understanding is that various interest groups in Gorey came together, addressed the parents and were questioned and that the parents were then surveyed. This was carried out in their homes and they decided on that basis. That is my understanding, although perhaps I am incorrect.

That issue is for debate on another day.

We must bring common sense to the discussion. I believe in the primacy of parental choice, but I also believe there must be critical mass. Otherwise it would not be tenable to resource a new school at every corner. The delegation is justifying the position based on having 150 parents now and 35 earlier in the year and stating that because there was no approval, they were managed out of the system. That is wrong, but I reiterate that there must be critical mass.

That is what happened. There were differing views.

Let us move on. Some serious points have been made and I realise the membership is under pressure to move. However, I call on the committee to note, "That the Gaeltacht continues to be defined under the provisions of the Ministers and Secretaries Act; that no official definition exists of what a Gaeltacht school is, apart from its geographic location; that there is a lack of State policy on Gaeltacht education; the other points made by An Comhairle um Oideachas Gaeltachta agus Gaelscoilaíochta in its submission; and that the committee expresses concern at these findings and asks the Minister for Education and Skills and any other relevant Minister to examine the issue as a matter of urgency to protect the Irish language within the education system". Is that agreed? Agreed.

It might be useful to include the point made by Ms Ní Mhóráin. The statistic of only 1,000 pupils is frightening.

That is included. Of 2,200 children in category A schools, only 1,000 are native speakers.

The proposal is fine if that is included.

That is a key point. We wish to protect that cohort, as well as ensuring others will have the opportunity to gain fluency in Irish.

Mr. Éamonn Mac Niallais

Deputy O'Dowd referred to quangos. The definition of a quango is an inefficient body.

What about Irish Rail?

Mr. Éamonn Mac Niallais

As far as gaelscoileanna are concerned, the Department of Education and Skills is a quango. It is not doing what it is supposed to be doing.

We believe strongly power should rest with parents and schools. They choose and we provide. They make the choices. There is no problem with this. That is how it should be.

It has been a long meeting with lots of interruptions. However, there is broad agreement on the points made. I am glad we are in a position to pass on a number of recommendations to the Minister. Everything else has been noted. Given that the 20-year strategy is being debated in the Dáil today, I hope this will prove helpful.

As agreed in private session, it is proposed to amend the minutes of the meeting of 7 October. The reason for the temporary suspension was to check with members regarding the timings of their contributions to ensure consistency. Is that agreed? Agreed.

The joint committee adjourned at 12.40 p.m. until 10 a.m. on Thursday, 2 December 2010.