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14 May 1998 Edition

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Money talks - in Irish...at last

By Sean O'Tuama

After decades of vigorous campaigning the Department of Education has at last granted £2 million to Bunscoil Phobail Feirste. The money, long fought for by Irish language enthusiasts, parents and politicians, means that Irish language education has been given a much-needed boost and ensures that a new school will replace the present prefabricated structures.

The announcement came after the Board of Governors of the Bunscoil and SF MPs Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness with party colleague Bairbre de Brun met Direct Ruler Mowlam and education minister Tony Worthington on Tuesday 11 May.

Despite some opposition from Department of Education civil servants the funding was agreed. However, as the meeting was breaking up one of the civil servants present said to the school architect who attended the meeting that ``we'll get you in the long grass.'' This blatant threat comes on the heels of a leaked NIO document which exposed the covert advice given by high ranking civil servant, Tony Canavan to his minister Worthington. The advice which was a clear attempt to dilute, if not destroy, the proposals in the Good Friday document to enhance the status of the Irish language in the six counties.

Afterwards the British government announced that £3m would be made available - £2m for the Bunscoil and Naiscoil and £1m for Meanscoil Feirste.

Gerry Adams welcomed the move as a ``significant first step on the road to full equality for the Irish language in West Belfast which will have to be replicated throughout the rest of the Six Counties.'' He went on to commend the parents, teachers, pupils and Irish language activists who have ``fought a long and difficult battle for the recognition and equality that they deserve.''

Although this funding will provide a school for the Bunscoil, after 27 years of campaigning, the money for the Naiscoil falls well short of the amount actually needed.

There are 13 medium level Irish language schools in the North, this funding is only being given to one of them. Six of the rest receive no British funding at all due to the gerrymandered criteria of the Education Department. Under their rules only medium level Irish language schools which can achieve and maintain an enrolment of 100 pupils are eligible for funds. It usually takes a few years for any school, English or Irish, to attain that figure as children come through from nursery and primary schools. However the Education Department will not provide any money for Irish language nursery schools thus making it virtually impossible for the medium level schools to reach the 100 pupil requirement.

Jake MacSiacais, development officer of Gaeloiliuint - The Council for Irish Medium Education - said in response to the funding announcement that ``we give it a very guarded welcome as a faltering step in the right direction but it still leaves a dearth of funding. We are encouraged by it and hope it leads to the belated recognition of the needs of Irish education. However we will continue our campaign to get full equality for the Irish language.''
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