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Why has the Irish language been removed as a requirement for NUIG's President?

The Students’ Union president says he’s concerned about the decision the move will have for Leaving Cert students.

STUDENTS AT THE National University of Ireland, Galway (NUIG) are protesting against a decision to remove fluency in the Irish language as a requirement for the position of President.

The current President of NUIG Dr Jim Browne is due to resign in January 2018. Ahead of the changeover, the university took the decision to change the criteria to allow for a greater number of applicants to the position.

NUIG’s Students’ Union are against the removal of the requirement, saying that as the only bi-lingual university in the country, to take a step away from the Irish would have a significant influence on Irish language speakers.

“I’m particularly concerned about the impact it might have on Leaving Cert students,” says NUIG Students’ Union president Jimmy McGovern.

“They might start to think [Irish] isn’t as important if we take this step away from it. It’s very unfair to the Irish language department, to the work they do, and the passion behind their work.”

Restricting applications

shutterstock_77370622 Source: Shutterstock/Elzbieta Sekowska

But McGovern is also understanding of the stance the university has taken, acknowledging that there would be a difficulty finding someone on the board who would agree with reducing the status of the Irish language.

“Traditionally, we have always have been a bilingual university promoting the Irish language and culture. But in the past 10 years we’ve become more of a global college, and are in the top 250 universities worldwide.

NUIG also plans to increase the number of international students to 1 in 4 by 2020.

Having the Irish language as a requirement restricts the amount and type of candidates by a huge amount.

While he recognises that there could be a difficulty around applications, the Students’ Union stance is that the university should have tried to find applicants, and if there was a difficulty, then they could start a debate around removing the Irish language as a requirement.

Currently, NUIG’s President and Runaí, or secretary, are required to be fluent Irish speakers, and the language is used at graduation speeches, ceremonies along with English.

Last week a céilí protest in support of an Irish-speaking President was held at the university’s gates. The protest, which was organised by Misneach na Gaillimhe (the bravery of Galway) and supported by the Students’ Union, gathered around 50 people.

McGovern, who was at the protest said that “you could see the students who were furious with this”.

This is the only bilingual university in the country, right on the cornerstone of the Gaeltacht, so for NUIG to take a step away is a concern for everyone across the country.
If we keep taking these steps, it’s hard to imagine what will happen.

Further protests are planned against the removal of the Irish language requirement, with the hope that if the incoming President isn’t a Gaeilgeoir, that they will continue the promotion of the language as a core part of the college’s identity.

Read: Education Minister sets out four options to deal with baptism barrier

Read: Northern Ireland minister says he’ll restore Irish language funding – just weeks after cutting it off

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