The School, The Council and The Minister.

It seems apparent that Monday will see Bairbre de Brún will be elected as an MEP in Europe. Bairbre is well known as an Irish speaker and indeed activist, she will no doubt avail of the official status of Irish and use the language in the European Parliament.

Many Irish speakers in the Six Counties however will ask, what is the point when the struggle is at home?I have been contacted by a source working inside the Gaelscolaíocht movement with some information on the circumstances regarding Coláiste Speirín, the last Irish medium school in the North without statutory recognition.

A school which in the words of its principal, Mr Cathal Ó Donnghaile :

…is so close to achieving our goals and, still, they seem so elusive and far away. The financial situation in the school has always been very precarious but never so much as it is at present …Realistically, we have to survive for possibly another 4 to 6 months with no prospect of funding before the much-awaited breakthrough comes.

Unless we are supported now by a philanthropic benefactor, Coláiste Speirín will most likely cease to exist and the pupils will be split up and sent in their different directions. This would have a devastating knock-on effect on all current and future Irish-medium projects.

One leading member of Conradh na Gaeilge has contacted me with a very simple message : If the school is allowed to close … in the Six Counties it will be almost impossible to establish post primary Irish medium schools.

My source inside the Gaelscoil establishment in the North has usefully abbreviated the Coláiste Speirín saga to date, note, documentary evidence is available.

1. The committee of Coláiste Speirín was setup by CnaG around 2005 this was based on a paper that CnaG submitted to the Bains review on education in which they talked about all kinds of ways forward but NOT streams or units at post primary.

2. CnaG went through a full consultation with all Irish-medium primary schools at this time

3. CnaG then submitted the first development proposal and CEO supported the school in the press, which was for a satellite as part of Coláiste Feirste

4. The school was knocked back after intervention by the inspectorate (which was ill founded)

5. FIRST U-TURN CnaG then supported the school but a little later changed their minds and did not support the following development proposal. The SF minister rejected it stating at meetings that she would only listen to the advice from CnaG ( So defacto CnaG blocked it)

6. About a 18 months ago CnaG wrote a new policy stating that they were going with units in English schools and in a debate on RnaG the CEO said that they were not supporting Colaiste Speirín per say but were happy to help with policies but that they saw the future in units of English medium and not in Colaíste Speirín

7. SECOND UTURN A CnaG board meeting last week have u-turned again and want a free standing post primary school in Armagh BECAUSE the unit in Armagh has capped its intake and won’t play ball ( in any case it only offers a relatively small number of subjects through Irish)

8. Coláiste Feirste are currently working on a new way forward but CnaG is still not interested in Cookstown as a unit but wants to NOW to work with them on Armagh. Coláiste Feirste wants an equitable solution for all children while CnaG on the face of it appear to be partisan to one area??

This is a damning assessment of Comhairle na Gaelscolaíochta, the body charged with promoting Irish schools.

It has to be pointed out that many people working in Irish medium schools do however support the approach of CnaG in that they feel that in the past that Irish medium schools have been founded on top on one and another, which has affected adversely affected the intakes and growth of all of the schools.

In addition, many Irish speakers believe that in some areas and in some circumstances that Irish medium streams in English medium schools are the better options. Others will point out that the minister would have great difficulty ignoring the body set up by the Department of Education to promote Irish medium education (though she has chosen to do so in the past).

I have also been given information regarding Meánscoil Doire, the Irish medium secondary school in Derry which closed a number of years back. Meánscoil Doire did not have a high intake and has been described by my sources as ‘failing’, however it is understood a plan was in place :

CnaG in 2005 had a plan for Derry to move a failing CCMS and link it with Coláiste Feirste as part of a new federation. there was broad agreement in Derry which was ascertained by consultation by all parties and with Coláiste Féirste, the existing unit and the Bishop ( school Trustee)

In the interim the unit has closed and CnaG have not followed up on any of their plans leaving Derry without a post primary once again??

These comments are a pretty damning assessment of Comhairle na Gaelscolaíochta which seems to be going the way of Foras na Gaeilge and completing losing any support from the Irish speaking community. The Minister must, if she wants to be remembered as one who worked for Irish medium education must take advices from beyond Comhairle na Gaelscolaíochta.

She would be wise of course not to take counsel from her enemies but she would find supportive voices if she looked for them.

My port has always been a simple one, what did you expect? The Irish language movement on the ground must be rebuilt, free from the heroin of grants, and independent of political affiliations, and free from the influences of statutory bodies which are a part of the system, a system founded on Anglicisation.

I have been portrayed as a lunatic (and a gobshite probably) for the last ten years as I have constantly stated in meetings and in print – the government are not going to pay for the restoration of Irish. Voluntary work on the ground is what is needed. Many just do not want to know.

I hope however that circumstances can now be used as an aspiration to rebuild. Of course, there are those who are somewhat unhinged, carry personal grudges etc, but there exist a strong body of people beyond these willing and able.

Conradh na Gaeilge must be rebuilt in the North and beyond, a reinvigorated movement is needed, not a ‘well funded sector’, which translated from NIO speak simply means ‘bought and paid for’.

Remember, you can join the Conradh, you don’t havbe to apply for a job with them, you can set up your own cumann and work LOCALLY, for it is local activisim alone which makes the difference, be onto Eamó what ia Eamó’s and worry about the amount of Irish spoken in own townland.

For fifty years, older, wiser, activists have always warned younger activists against involvement in politics, constantly warning that the language will at some point be sacrificed by the nationalist parties faced with anglicising forces within their own parties and of course the absolute opposition to the language from unionists. Has this sacrifice come to pass?

Clearly, most Irish language groups are now utterly disillusioned by the process, to the delight of unionists and the DUP in particular. I doubt if the shared futurists will lose much sleep over us either.

Of course the small numbers of Irish speakers mean that they can have no realistic impact on the process ach an té nach bhfuil láidir, caithfidh sé a bheith glic.

Sin an rud, cha rabh muid riamh glic go dtí seo.

Freelance journalist, working mostly in Irish.

Have my own independent news website – antuairisceoir.com – which is in constant need of material.

I am the former editor of the newspaper Gaelscéal, www.gaelsceal.ie