23 November 2006 Edition
Letter to the Taoiseach BY BARRY McELDUFF
BY BARRY McELDUFF
If politics is about people, Taoiseach, then it is certainly about the children of Strabane in County Tyrone who attend the Irish Medium College in Letterkenny, County Donegal.
Do they not know that there is a border, some might say? I've even heard the more extreme talk about an 'international' border but it appears to cut no ice with families in Strabane who want the best for their children.
I was always told that the educational authorities would provide financial assistance towards transport costs for children travelling to the nearest school within the sector of their choice. The principle of parental choice is supported by most people and the Good Friday Agreement itself urges all Government Departments, North and South to take 'resolute action' to promote the Irish language. This is not unconnected to the recent proposals for an Irish language act to provide a statutory framework to protect the rights of Irish speakers.
Ar ais to the Strabane children, the post primary school which they attend in Letterkenny is called Coláiste Ailigh, Gael Coláiste. It is the nearest secondary school within the Irish medium sector for these children but here is the hitch. The families have to fund the cost of school transport themselves.
Maria Eagle the British Minister with responsibility for Education in the North, wrote to me on 31 July quoting Article 52 of the Education and Library (NI) Order 1986 which confirms that Education and Library Boards in the Six Counties are required to make such transport arrangements as they consider necessary to facilitate attendance of pupils at grant-aided schools.
Wait to you hear the rest. "A grant-aided school is a school to which grants are made under the Northern Ireland Education Orders. As Coláiste Ailigh in Letterkenny is not a grant-aided school as defined, it is not possible for the Western Education and Library Board to provide assistance with home to school transport."
Effectively, what this means Taoiseach is that the border is being reinforced as an iron curtain for these children in Strabane. You might say that this is exaggerating things a bit but the bottom line is that the two Departments of Education do not appear to have the necessary interest or will to put this right.
You will be well briefed on this particular issue because these children of the nation wrote to you themselves some months ago. Personal letters to the Taoiseach. I wrote to your Ministerial colleague Mary Hanafin during the summer and I did receive an acknowledgement on 9 June. Mary thanked me for my letter and suggested that she was making enquiries about this matter and would write to me again as soon as possible.
I regret to say that I am still waiting and the families involved are still paying out of their own pockets for a service that would otherwise be provided for them if they did not have the cheek to cross the border.
Education is an area of North-South co-operation, we are told. Can you give this your personal attention?
Mol an óige agus tiocfaidh sí.
Is mise le meas
NB - Bertie Ahern can be contacted on (00353) 1 6194020 or email [email protected] Address: Office of the Taoiseach, Government Buildings, Dublin 2