John O’Dowd, the Sinn Féin minister for education in the Northern Executive, has refused permission for Irish medium nursery units to be established at Bunscoil Bheanna Boirche in Caisleán Uidhilín (Castlewellan, County Down) and Gaelscoil Eanna in Gleann Gormliath (Glengormley, Co. Antrim). According to the Belfast Telegraph:
‘The minister, whose party pledged in its election manifesto to promote and facilitate Irish medium education, revealed his decision yesterday.
Mr O’Dowd said: “I take my statutory duties in relation to Irish-medium education very seriously. Each development proposal for the establishment of new provision must, however, be carefully considered.”
Explaining the move, the minister said: “There are already sufficient Irish-medium places to meet current demand in the area and it is not my department’s policy to displace good quality pre-school provision already in existence, with pre-school provision in an alternative setting.”
The Northern Eastern Education and Library Board submitted the development proposal for the new grant-aided Irish medium nursery Naiscoil Eanna in Glengormley with the Department of Education in March. It was seeking funding for 26 full-time places for September 1.
The South Eastern Education and Library Board made its request for ‘Naiscoil Uachtar Tire’ on March 22. It also wanted 26 full-time places for September 1.
Both requests were submitted to the department before John O’Dowd was appointed education minister in May.
Mr O’Dowd has indicated from day one that with the pressure on his budget, he would have to make tough decisions.’
Tough decisions, maybe. Poor decisions, certainly. Sinn Féin’s record on the Irish language is a lot more mixed than most people (supporters or opponents) assume and the party has pursued a number of questionable policies on the national language in recent years. Plaid Cymru it is not, and in terms of a progressive language nationalism the party lags far behind its Welsh contemporaries. While high profile events like Líofa 2015 draw all the attention they are meaningless without the solid foundations that come from things like the widespread availability of education through the Irish language.
Both Caisleán Uidhilín (Castlewellan) and Gleann Gormliath (Glengormley) have small but vigorous Irish speaking communities – the former was the home to the Irish writer and poet Séamus Ó Néill – and it is to Sinn Féin’s shame that the party has failed to deliver on the demands of local people for linguistic and cultural equality with their English-speaking peers.
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