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Parties fire shots over Irish language plans

Sinn Féin launches its Irish plan outside Fine Gael HQ – but the election frontrunners label the move an ‘empty stunt’.

Leaving Certificate students would not be obliged to take Irish under Fine Gael's plans, which have been attacked by Sinn Féin.
Leaving Certificate students would not be obliged to take Irish under Fine Gael's plans, which have been attacked by Sinn Féin.
Image: Niall Carson/PA

FINE GAEL and Sinn Féin have exchanged electoral fire over the former party’s plans for the Irish language, which controversially includes plans to remove it as a compulsory subject for students sitting the Leaving Certificate.

The disputes come after Sinn Féin announced it was planning the launch of its pre-election Irish language proposals on the doorsteps of Fine Gael’s party headquarters on Upper Mount Street in Dublin.

Yesterday, a large group of Irish language students gathered outside the Fine Gael HQ to protest Enda Kenny’s proposal that Irish be made non-mandatory at senior cycle.

At that event, the party’s finance spokesman Pearse Doherty said Sinn Féin was “committed to the protection and restoration of the Irish language… unlike Fine Gael’s proposal to de-prioritise Irish by removing it from the second level education system as compulsory”.

He added:

Equality is an integral part of a democratic society and this, as we have stated in our party’s manifesto, includes upholding the rights of Irish language speakers.

Doherty outlined the party’s plan to enact the total measures of the outgoing government’s 20-year strategy for Irish, and to nurture the language in Gaeltacht areas.

Fine Gael’s eduacation and skills spokseman Fergus O’Dowd ridiculed Sinn Féin’s launch as an ‘empty stunt’, however, saying Sinn Féin was obviously “out of touch” given compulsory Irish had left only 4.4 per cent of the population speaking Irish every day. He said:

We have a multi-faceted strategy that will support the continuing development of Gaelscoileanna, deliver new job creation prospects to Gaeltacht regions, and investigate a national proficiency scale for the Irish language.

O’Dowd underlined Fine Gael’s plans to reform the Irish language curriculum, which the party believes would nurture a better command of the language among the population.

The party says that its reforms – which include changing the method of assessment of Leaving Cert Irish, with 50 per cent of total marks being awarded for an oral exam – would double the number of people taking Higher Level Irish in the Leaving Cert by 2018.

14,650 people took Irish at Higher Level in the 2010 Leaving Cert, while 25,906 took it at ordinary level. 4,387 took the subject at its basic foundation level.

Irish language students protest on Valentine’s Day at being “dumped” by Fine Gael>

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Gavan Reilly

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