Minister on collision course with gaelscoileanna
EDUCATION Minister Ruairi Quinn faces a showdown with the country's growing number of gaelscoileanna over controversial proposals for setting up new primary schools.
They claim plans for approving schools in the future will not protect the minority position of all-Irish education.
And they dismiss as unworkable a suggestion that the issue could be dealt with by setting up all-Irish units within English-medium schools.
The proposals are contained in a new report done for the Department of Education by the Commission of School Accommodation.
Objections have been lodged by Gaelscoileanna Teo, a support body for 139 Irish primary schools in the Republic, and An Foras Patrunachta, a patron of 57 Irish language schools.
The commission reviewed the procedures for the setting up of new primary schools in light of the rapid population growth and demand from parents for greater diversity.
It was concerned with the question of physical need for a new school, which is separate, although linked, to patronage -- the matter of who runs the schools.
Primary school pupil numbers are predicted to grow by 64,000 by 2018, some of whom will be accommodated in existing schools. However, there will be a need for new schools in areas that have grown rapidly in recent years, such as west Dublin.
Current rules allow for a new primary school to be established once 17 pupils have been identified, but the new plans will require higher minimum numbers and up to three class streams for each year.
Key recommendations include a survey of parents in newly established areas to decide on the type of school and campus-style arrangements, where schools come together on a single site and share facilities.
Letters of objection from Gaelscoileanna Teo and An Foras Patrunachta have been published as appendices to the report.
An Foras Patrunachta chief executive Caoimhin O hEaghra claims the report "places an obstacle to the provision of all-Irish education to the children of the country".
He said it was likely that those looking for an all-Irish education would be in a minority at first, so a parental survey would not meet their needs.
Gaelscoileanna Teo acting chief executive Nora Ni Loinsigh agreed it would be difficult to establish an all-Irish school on the basis of a survey of parents.
She said the experience of Gaelscoileanna was that all-Irish units in English-medium schools did not work. She said that seven closed at second-level in the past 10 years due to lack of support by the department.