More primary pupils than ever being taught through Irish
The number of pupils being taught through Irish at primary school reached record high levels in the recent academic year.
New figures published by the Department of Education show that almost one in 12 schoolchildren at primary level is receiving their education through Irish.
This has risen steadily from 6.4pc of primary pupils in 2000 to 8.1pc in 2018-19.
A total of 45,278 students across 247 primary schools were taught through the medium of Irish in the recent school year - an annual increase of 1.5pc.
The majority of schools - at 147, with almost 38,000 pupils - are outside Gaeltacht areas.
However, the figures show there is wide variation in the proportion of students being educated through Irish.
The highest rate is in Galway city, where almost a quarter of all primary schoolchildren are taught through Irish.
Other areas with rates over 10pc include Cork city and county, Galway county, Donegal and Monaghan.
In contrast, Cavan has the lowest rate at less than 1pc of pupils, with only one school in the county offering classes through Irish.
Only one Gaelscoil is available in counties Roscommon, Sligo, Laois, Longford, Kilkenny and Carlow.
An Foras Pátrúnachta, the largest patron of Gaelscoileanna, has welcomed the recent initiative announced by Education Minister Joe McHugh to increase access to Irish-medium education.
Under the new system, a new school being established in an area with a growing population will be a Gaelscoil if there is no existing one.
In addition, at least one school will provide education through Irish where a number of new schools are being established in the same school planning area.
Other measures include a pilot on delivering two eight classroom schools, one in English and one in Irish, in a shared building rather than one 16-classroom school, and an opportunity for the patrons of schools to change their language of instruction from English to Irish.
An Foras Pátrúnachta's general secretary Caoimhín Ó hEaghra, said the changes represented a process for addressing "an imbalance" in the provision of Irish-medium education.
The patron body said a pilot system where parents indicated their choice of ethos and language of instruction of new primary schools showed 26pc on average favoured a school providing classes through Irish.
"These steps will result in supply better meeting demand and moving away from a situation where less than 5pc of primary schools are Gaelscoileanna," Mr Ó hEaghra said.
However, he said many students still had difficulty in continuing their education through Irish after leaving primary school.