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Dublin: 10 °C Wednesday 22 May, 2019
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'We'll depopulate - and very, very quickly the island will be gone'

The people of Inis Meáin are campaigning hard to get a second teacher for their primary school – but so far their protests are falling on deaf ears.

THE POPULATION OF one of the Aran Islands is beseeching education minister Jan O’Sullivan to provide for a second teacher for their island’s one primary school.

Inis Meáin (Inishmaan), off the coast of Galway is the middle of the three main Aran Islands. It has a population of about 150, a secondary school (that provides post-primary education for all the Islands), and one primary school.

That primary school, Scoil Náisiúnta Inis Meáin, currently has one employee, Orlaith Breathnach, who acts as both principal and teacher to 9 children, ranging in age from 4 to 13 years.

Think about that – one teacher to control (and educate) students ranging across six different classes, in one room, with no back-up whatsoever.

The situation is one the islanders, and Breathnach, are not one bit happy about.

orlbre Orlaith Breathnach

“Before, we had a special dispensation which we received in 2002, for one school islands – that meant we could have two teachers if we had at least eight students – but that has gone out the window with the current government,” she told TheJournal.ie.

The school lost its second teacher in 2012 when its enrolment dropped to six.

20150716_184934 Scoil Náisiúnta Inis Meáin

Members of the island’s community met TDs in Dublin this week to defend their school from practical closure – something they see as a fast-track to the depopulation of the island.

“It almost looks like there is a policy to starve our school into extinction,” said one parent at the meeting, Ruairí de Blacam.

It’s like the Department is saying to parents, we don’t care about your children. Just leave the island and go elsewhere.

Without a functioning primary school there will be no motivation for young families to live and work on the island, say parents.

“It’s crazy, half of our enrolment have no Irish (the school teaches through Irish exclusively) – if it were the case that they had no English (which is the case with just one child) it would be grounds to get a second teacher, but not the other way round,” says Breathnach, a Dublin native who married and has been living and working on the island since 1996.

Leaving Cert Exams Results Minister for Education Jan O'Sullivan Source: Laura Hutton/Rollingnews.ie

She says that all the politicians and people they met in Dublin this week were in complete agreement with the school’s plight (including Gaeltacht minister Joe McHugh, Éamon Ó Cuív (Fianna Fáil), Derek Nolan (Labour), and Trevor Ó Clochartaigh (Sinn Féin)) – unfortunately the one person who matters, education minister Jan O’Sullivan, was not present.

A Department of Education spokesperson acknowledged to TheJournal.ie that one school islands off the Irish coast have special dispensation to employ two teachers once the school’s population is greater than 8.

20150716_184912

However,  the reason why Scoil Náisiúnta has been denied a further teaching post for next year is because “the key factor for determining the level of staffing resources provided at individual school level is the staffing schedule for the relevant school year and pupil enrolments on the previous 30 September”.

This seems a little counter-intuitive, as obviously needs will change from year to year.

“An appeals process is available to small schools in the event that they can show that their projected enrolments are sufficient to allow them to retain their classroom teacher in the longer term. Circular 0005/2015 provides the criteria under which schools can make an appeal. The Appeal Board operates independently of the Department and its decision is final,” said the spokesperson.

The final meeting of the Primary Staffing Appeals Board to consider appeals for the 2015/16 school year will be held in October, 2015.

9201086151_df04f12ee3_o Inis Meáin, as viewed from an Aer Arran flight Source: Calflier001

“October 2015 will obviously be far too late,” says Breathnach.

It seems to me like the department is determined to do nothing. And it’s not like Jan O’Sullivan isn’t aware of all this. She is very, very aware of what’s going on. This isn’t a new issue.

It’s children’s basic right to an education that is being violated – it’s an impossible situation.

What will happen is people won’t be happy to send their children to school here. They’ll see it as not a safe school, not a viable school, and then what other choice will they have but to leave the island. And very, very quickly the island will be gone.

Breathnach believes that legal action may be the only option left open to the residents of the island.

“There are two separate cases to be answered I’m informed – children’s right to an education, and my right to fair working conditions,” she says.

If it comes to that, how little sense does that make? Because any legal case will end up costing the department a hell of a lot more than the 30 or 40 thousand it would cost to employ another teacher.

Read: Here are the places in Ireland that could become UNESCO Heritage Sites

Read: “Someone I could say nothing but nice things about” – Galway village devastated by death of local GAA star in Croatia

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