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 pre-schools and crèches can play in promoting Irish as a living language. In that regard, my Department has participated pro-actively with colleagues in the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and the Department of Education and Skills in agreeing a comprehensive set of actions to be implemented under the Action Plan for the Irish Language 2018 to 2022, launched by the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht in June 2018. This five year action plan sets out a range of agreed actions, with associated timeframes, to be implemented in support of the overarching 20 Year Strategy for the Irish Language 2010 to 2030.
My Department has committed to a range of actions designed to affirm the importance of the role that early learning and care settings can play in fostering Irish language proficiency. 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. The agreed actions include the creation of two Irish language early years posts to co-ordinate the development of Irish language provision in the early years sector in non Gaeltacht areas, 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 within the action plan.
Efforts are also being made within my Department to ensure improved communication with Irish speaking childcare services, in particular in the context of the major national childcare schemes that my Department funds. The many supports that 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 in relation to 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.
These are just some examples of the ways in which my Department is engaging with, and ensuring that, Irish medium childcare services are facilitated to provide their services through the Irish language.
A Whole of Government Strategy for Babies, Young Children and their Families was launched on 19th November. This ambitious ten year plan contains two actions specifically aimed at supporting the development of the Irish language within the early learning and care sector. These actions are as follows:
- Introduce measures to ensure that children in Gaeltacht areas have access to Irish-medium ELC provision;
- Develop mechanisms to provide Irish-language supports to ELC provision where there are high proportions of children who are learning through the medium of Irish.
An implementation plan for the actions contained within that Strategy was published in May. My Department will lead on the delivery of the second action, which links to the Department's commitments under the Irish Language Action Plan.
As of July 2019, Pobal confirmed that there are 243 childcare services that identify as Naíonraí on the PIP system. Of these 243 services, 236 provide ECCE services. Since the start of the current programme year a total of 7,515 children have registered for ECCE at these services.
My Department remains committed to supporting services wishing to operate through the medium of Irish, and will continue to engage with relevant stakeholders in this regard.