Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Ceisteanna (54)

Éamon Ó Cuív


54. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs her policy on the promotion of the Irish language in all State subsidised childcare facilities; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29377/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (8 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Children)

It is recognised that young children have a much better ability to learn languages and that this ability declines as people get older. We see that around us all the time. Children can learn two languages as easily as they can learn one if they are exposed to two languages. Is thought being given to promoting the use of Irish in all crèches and in the early school programme throughout the State? I refer to not only the Irish language facilities but all of them. It can be done through tapes and so forth so young children can be exposed to the Irish language, as well as the English language and can absorb it naturally, as children do. They are like sponges with languages.

I appreciate the Deputy asking his question in the language I can understand.

I am very conscious of the value of supporting the provision of services in the Irish language to children at an early age and of the role early learning and care services can play in promoting Irish as a living language, which is the subject of the Deputy's comment.

My Department has committed to a range of actions under the five-year action plan for the Irish language from 2018 to 2022. The aim of these actions is to build on existing measures, supports and partnerships in the area of Irish-medium early years education and further improve supports and services.

These actions include the provision of information and supports on childcare to parents who are raising their children through Irish, the creation of two Irish language posts in the Department and the establishment of a baseline of supports for naíonraí that will inform future policy plans.

My Department has established a dedicated early years national oversight group that monitors the implementation of the early years specific actions contained in the action plan.

The many supports my Department offers are available to all early learning and care services, and efforts are being made to ensure improved communication with Irish-speaking childcare services. In respect of the forthcoming national childcare scheme, the website and parent application will be available in Irish.

Irish-speaking support staff are available to answer parental queries, and communications about the scheme are also available in Irish.

Training and materials for the access and inclusion model that helps children with a disability to participate in the ECCE scheme are available through Irish.

My Department remains committed to supporting services wishing to operate through the medium of Irish and will continue to engage with relevant stakeholders.

In that regard, I welcome the report recently launched by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Irish Language, the Gaeltacht and the Islands regarding the challenges associated with running Irish-medium childcare centres in the Gaeltacht.

I have come at this question in five or six different ways at different times. I want to make it absolutely explicit that I am not talking about Irish-medium childcare settings. That goes without saying, though they should be provided as a basic human right to those who require them. The websites should also be provided, but I do not see too many two year olds reading websites. I am referring to the whole remit of childcare, because all these children are going to go to primary school and will have to start learning Irish there, but they have a much greater ability to learn Irish at two or three years old than at five years of age. Every year that we do not expose them to a second language, we lose a unique opportunity. Children have no problem learning languages, unlike adults. Is an effort going to be made to encourage the use of the Irish language in all childcare facilities across the country through songs, poetry and little rhymes? We should teach these children little sayings that anyone with an elementary knowledge of the language could teach. Are we going to have a programme in English-language crèches and childcare facilities to encourage the use of bilingualism? A child who learns two languages early will learn a third, fourth and fifth language much easier later in life.

I take the Deputy's point. As he can appreciate, I felt it was important to identify the ways in which we are responding and supporting Irish-medium childcare settings, as well as Irish-speaking parents who want to see Irish being utilised in the development of the national childcare scheme. That is important and more needs to be done in light of the various action plans that have come out, including the most recent report from the Joint Committee on Irish Language, the Gaeltacht and the Islands. Those are my first points.

I accept what the Deputy is arguing for and I agree with him on the helpfulness and importance of opportunities for children in all childcare settings, not only Irish-medium ones, especially in early years. A number of recommendations in the recent committee report to which I referred also highlight that. My Department will work with an interdepartmental working group in order to decide how to support those recommendations.

This goes beyond what people were thinking up until now, which was all about Irish language medium childcare and preschool education. That is absolutely vital and is a basic fundamental right for those who rear their children through Irish. Some parents also choose to send their children to an Irish-medium facility. However, I am talking about the wider sector. If we were to tell parents that we could give their children the present of contact with a second language, which they will grasp naturally, for free, 85% or 90% of them would be delighted. Young children have no difficulty with this. They become very dextrous in languages when they are exposed to two languages. Why are we not thinking about the big picture, or thinking outside the box? We could give the greatest free present ever to our children, simply by encouraging the use of little sayings and rhymes. They are all there and the back-up is there. Having a programme which encourages crèches and childcare facilities to expose children to the Irish language as a second language will also help them learn other languages in the future. The vast majority of children, barring those with severe disabilities, will learn two languages as easily as one.

I take the Deputy's point. I get what he is saying and agree with his arguments. The report from the Joint Committee on the Irish Language, the Gaeltacht and the Islands is more focused on Irish-speaking educational and early educational settings. However, one of its recommendations is that the Department of Education and Skills should create specific posts in order to develop further Irish-medium provision in the early years sector, both inside and outside Gaeltacht areas. That will effectively cover every early years setting, which is what the Deputy is arguing for. Is that not exactly what he is suggesting?

I will bring that clear recommendation on early years settings back to my Department. There are also some suggestions on the ways in which both Irish-medium and non-Irish medium early years settings can share best practices with each other in order to support the development of children learning the language. I will bring the Deputy's general recommendations back to my Department, which is working in that area, to see what we can do about that. I will come back to the Deputy about it at a later date.