A serious threat has emerged to the future of Gaelscoileanna which are among the most successful second level schools in the country.
The Irish Independent has learned that the Department of Education and Science Building Unit has proposed that no new second level Gaelscoilenna be built.
Instead it proposes that where there is demand for a Gaelscoil then an all-Irish stream or a separate unit be built as part of an existing or new post primary school.
The proposal is aimed primarily at saving money but has led to fierce resistance within the Department. It is understood that the Minister Mary Hanafin, a committed Irish language speaker, is opposed to the move and will almost certainly reject it.
The Department would not make any comment other than to say that no change in policy was envisaged.
Sources said there would be political uproar if the proposal were accepted and no stand-alone Gaelscoileanna were built in the future. "Having a separate unit or aonad only works in a very large school," said one source.
Another said that if an all-Irish stream was attached to an ordinary second level school it would have great difficulties retaining the all-Irish atmosphere. "Inevitably the pupils from the Irish stream would end up talking English in the playground with the other students," he said.
The Minister cannot afford another row with the Irish language lobby. She has already upset supporters of all-Irish education by insisting that junior infants have to be taught English at least by the start of the second term, but this has been the subject of a High Court challenge.
Although the proposal not to build any more Gaelscoileanna is virtually certain to be shot down, the fact that it was even tabled will cause alarm in some quarters.
There are 44 all-Irish second level schools, including four new schools in 2007, and one new school as a result of the amalgamation of two schools. They are made up as follows; l Twenty-seven come under Vocational Education Committees.
l Thirteen are categorised as secondary schools, most under religious patronage (Catholic), three under patronage by Irish language schools patron group An Foras Patrunachta.
l Four are community schools.
Gaelscoileanna feature among the most successful feeder schools for universities with both Colaiste Eoin and Colaiste Iosagain appearing in the top 10.