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Discrimination Dressed As Reasonableness… Isn’t It Always?

An article in the Irish Times decries the alleged “preferential” treatment given to Irish-speaking children in the education system because some students receive higher grades for successfully completing their study and examinations solely through the medium of the Irish language. No matter that Irish-speaking children are otherwise discriminated against in Ireland through the lack of Irish-medium schools, education services or the provision of social amenities. No matter that Irish-speaking children are forced to use the English language in wider society and sometimes face abuse and bigotry for not doing so. According to this writer it is the children of the dominant English-speaking majority who are discriminated against!

“Leaving Cert students who do their exams through Irish get grade boosts that add up to extra CAO points. This has been the case for so long it has been overlooked as a very serious inequality in our system.

The Leaving Cert is supposed to be a “level playing field”. That’s the phrase that supporters of this exam love to use.

Take two students, equally able, going for the same course in university. The student from the Irish language school has a better chance of getting that course, even if Irish is not required to study it. It doesn’t make academic sense at all.

I accept that completing an exam such as history through the Irish language is challenging, but not for a child that has had the benefit of 14 years of Irish language education.”

Challenging? Is that how one would describe life for an Irish speaking child living in a frequently intolerant English speaking society part of which actively discriminates against those raised in our native tongue, not least in the services provided by the state itself? Bizarrely the writer recognises this point by highlighting the state’s failure to meet the huge demand from parents and children across Ireland for Irish medium education, in the process contradicting his own argument.

“In my own locality there is one gaelscoil (Irish language primary school) and it is oversubscribed. The nearest gaelcholáiste (Irish language post-primary school) is miles away.

I absolutely support the right of parents to choose an all-Irish education for their children. I also realise that the bonus system is designed to encourage more parents to choose Irish language schooling. As we have seen, however, demand exceeds supply so the interest is being stoked by the bonus points system without a corresponding increase in provision.

Meanwhile, awarding bonus points for Irish continues to discriminate against those outside this limited Irish language school system. When a large pool of students are going for a small number of high point courses in university, is it really fair that those whose parents had access to a gaelscoil and gaelcholáiste should find themselves at such an advantage?”

But if all that is true then surely the most obvious and logical solution is to provide more Irish medium schools? That is, even greater numbers of children studying through the Irish language, not less. It could be done, for instance, by encouraging greater bilingualism in the English language education system, which compromises some 90% of schools in Ireland. Instead we have a situation where the Department of Education has become notorious for its anti-Irish policies, including a freeze on the construction of new Irish medium schools no matter how great (and growing) the demand is.

Furthermore, the present Fine Gael-Labour coalition government has set itself on a path of destruction through the nation’s Irish speaking communities by forcing the amalgamation or closure of Irish medium schools with its new regulations changing the teacher-to-pupil ratio in small rural or urban schools. Given the government’s now proven hostility to the Irish language, and its determination to roll back the limited civil rights provisions for Irish speaking citizens enshrined in the Official Languages Act of 2003, how anyone could argue that English speaking pupils face discrimination in contemporary Ireland is beyond comprehension.

The points made in this article are just another form of soft prejudice. If the writer truly believed in equality and equal access to education for all schoolchildren then the only rational course would be greater numbers of Irish medium schools up and down the country and at all levels. The demand is there, as is recognised: but instead of meeting that demand and “levelling the playing field” with a 50/50 Irish and English medium education system the writer simply wants the existing imbalance tipped even further in the favour of the English speaking majority.

Yes, there is very serious inequality in our education system. And it is an inequality that Irish-speaking children and their parents face every single school day.

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