KEY differences in education policy have emerged between Fine Gael and Labour -- the next likely partners in government.
The parties are set to clash over the issue of compulsory Irish in the Leaving Certificate.
Fine Gael wants Irish to be optional after the Junior Cert. But Labour leader Eamon Gilmore has backed the present position where students are obliged to study Irish up to Leaving Cert but are not compelled to sit it in the exam.
Labour's Irish language spokesman, Brian O'Shea, confirmed that he and Mr Gilmore had told Conradh na Gaeilge, the Irish-language organisation, that they favoured maintaining the status quo in relation to Irish.
The reassurance has been welcomed by Conradh general secretary Julian de Spainn. However, he has criticised Fine Gael's policies, which have been expressed by party leader Enda Kenny, a fluent Irish speaker, on several occasions. Mr de Spainn predicted that making Irish optional would cause a dramatic decline in the number of students taking the subject.
"You could have parents telling their children in second class in primary school not to worry about the subject, because they do not have to study it at the Leaving Cert.