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13 March 2003 Edition

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Stephen Rea backs Gaelscoil funding drive

A new multi-million pound plan to fund the continuing boom in Irish-language schooling in the North will be launched by former Stormont Education Minister Martin McGuinness next week.

Actor Stephen Rea, who sent his own children to Irish medium schools in Belfast, has just completed a video promoting the new initative and is an enthusiastic backer of the scheme.

From just three pupils in 1971 to over 3,200 pupils in 2002, Irish medium education has taken giant strides in the Six Counties.

Iontaobhas na Gaelscolaíochta, the funding body for Irish medium schools set up two years ago under the Good Friday Agreement, is seeking to create a sound funding base to keep up that momentum and build on it.

Set up with a grant from the Department of Education in the North and money from Foras na Gaeilge, the all-Ireland Irish language body, Iontaobhas has to date spent one and a half million pounds in helping Irish medium schools throughout the North. The emphasis has been on schools that have not yet reached the criteria to be recognised and fund aided by the state.

With the number of schools not recognised reduced now to just five (and many of these expect recognition soon) the Iontaobhas is turning its attentions fully to seeking funding for new Irish medium schools in the North.

Says Pilib Ó Rúnaí of Iontaobhas: "We want to see 60 new Irish medium schools in the coming ten years so that we can reach that critical mass which will secure the future of Irish medium education in the North.

"There are two main elements to the plan that Martin McGuinness will be launching in the Cultúrlann on 21 March and we hope it will find favour with the representatives from the business community who will be at the launch.

"Firstly, we are setting up a fund to seek donations from the public and from business to help finance our plan to open 60 new schools. The Department of Education has indicated that they would be willing to match that fund pound for pound, so that will be pivotal.

"We are also giving a guarantee that each penny people give will get to the schools and not get lost in administration or other costs. Money given will go straight to the schools that need it.

"Also, Iontaobhas has recently acquired TACA, a company which has been organising a lottery in Belfast and some other parts of the North over the past 15 years.

"In that period, TACA have contributed three quarters of a million pounds of its profit to Irish language initatives. We intent to revamp TACA and direct all of its profits in future to funding the growth of Irish medium schooling."

Underlying the whole initative is the spirit of self-help that has characterised the Irish medium schools in the North over the last 30 years.

"Until two years ago, almost half of the Irish medium schools in the North were not funded by the state. So there has been a long and healthy tradition amongst Irish speakers here of going out and seeking funding partnerships, of ensuring value for money and so on. That hasn't disappeared with the arrival of state funding.

"While state funding is welcome, it is smaller than required and in no way recognises the traditional underfunding of Irish medium sector vis a vis other educational sectors.

"So we recognise that the spirit of self help which has been so important in

the past is going to be equally important in the future."

Anyone wishing to make a donation to the Iontaobhas Fund or seeking further information can contact Pilib at Belfast 241510.


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