FINE Gael's controversial plan to drop Irish as a compulsory subject is now a "big issue" in Gaeltacht areas and will cost them votes, one senator admitted last night.
Gaelscoileanna, mna na tithe with Irish summer colleges and Conradh na Gaeilge are intensifying pressure on Fine Gael election candidates to have the party's position reversed.
Senator and Galway West election candidate Fidelma Healy Eames last night conceded it had become a "big issue" in areas such as Connemara and many parts of Galway city.
The senator said no changes should take place until a "solid review" was undertaken in order to diagnose the problem.
But the party's education spokesman Fergus O'Dowd last night claimed that while there would be a period of consultation about improving the curriculum and proficiency levels, the decision had been made to make Irish an optional Leaving Cert subject. Some 15,000 people have now signed a petition opposing Fine Gael's plans to end compulsory Irish.
At the launch of the party's manifesto, party leader Enda Kenny also signalled that Ireland must move beyond its traditional neutrality and take a more active role abroad.
He said "change is necessary" within the spirit of United Nations agreements so that Irish defence forces could make a greater contribution to humanitarian crises.
And in another contentious move, the party also confirmed plans to reverse the ban on stag hunting that was hard-fought for by the Green Party last year.
But on issues such as legislating for the 1992 X-case, which would make abortion lawful if the life of the mother is at risk, or legislating for gay marriage, Mr Kenny was less forthright.
The abortion issue has re-emerged as a political issue following the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights last year. The next government faces a decision on whether to ignore the X-case decision, to legislate for it or to rescind the X-case ruling by means of a new referendum.
But Mr Kenny refused to be drawn on any specifics yesterday. Instead, he insisted that an all-party Oireachtas committee should first examine the issue. "This is obviously a very sensitive matter and one that requires and deserves serious consideration and analysis," Mr Kenny said.
And on the issue of gay marriage, Mr Kenny would only say that his priority is to have the conclusions of the Civil Partnership Bill enshrined in the Finance Bill. This, he said, was the main priority in the area "for the moment".
In contrast, Labour wants a referendum asking people about recognising same-sex unions on the same basis as marriage. It also wants to legislate for the 1992 X-case.