Minister for Education Joe McHugh has announced changes to the manner in which exemptions to learning Irish are provided. Sharing the concerns of Irish language organisations, Cllr Emer Tóibín stated:

“The Minister for Education has taken the wrong approach to the Irish language. It is a short-sighted step and a missed opportunity.

“The Minister’s actions amount to feeding a negative culture of treating our national language as a burden by effectively incentivising exemptions from learning Irish.

“Rather than thinking constructively about how the language can be enjoyed and experienced by as many people as possible, including those with dyslexia, the Minister has acted to increase the likelihood of people now never having the opportunity to get to know the language and make it their own.

“As a country, it is crucial that we set out and pursue an effective strategy for our national language. A total absence of joined-up thinking at governmental level continues to jeopardise Irish. Many individuals and organisations, like Conradh na Gaeilge, Gaeloideachas and Gael Linn, do wonderful work to promote and foster Irish. In fact, much of the work of Irish language volunteers is spent on undoing damage done to the language by components of the state.

“It is especially pertinent that in the centenary year of Dáil Éireann and the 1919-21 struggle for freedom to recall the central role that the Irish language played in inspiring the men and women who set out to win our independence. The Irish language is part of who we are as a people. All moves that have the effect of further undermining and stunting it, must be tackled.

“We need to move towards a situation where bilingualism is genuinely promoted and Irish is not stigmatised as a burden or treated as an after-thought. It is inconceivable that someone would be able to learn French, Spanish or another language and yet have an innate difficulty with Irish. It is a language that belongs to all the people who live here, but it is in difficulty and requires sustained proactive steps to protect and rejuvenate it. Indeed, a healthier relationship with Irish is likely to lead to greater ability on the part of our young people to learn other languages.

“The Minister for Education would do well to remember that Irish is the first language of the state. As the first language, it should be nurtured in all ways possible. Fueling an opt-out culture flies in the face of any professed support for Irish.”