Over 1,600 Derry children affected by Irish language cuts

The Department of Education (DOE) have said they may have to end their funding of the Irish language outreach scheme for English-speaking schools in Derry.
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The Léargas scheme is run by Cultúrlann Uí Chanáin and teaches Irish to children in primary 5-7. The scheme employs two full-time teachers and a part-time management roll, who will be made redundant by the cuts.

Education Co-ordinator in an Chultúrlann, Carol McNamara said: "At the minute we’re not certain about the future for Léargas. The loss of jobs is bad enough but when you think about the children in the schools that are affected, it’s just unbelievable. There’s 15 schools taking part currently, more than 1,600 in a weekly Irish class. That’s a whole generation of Irish speakers who won’t have the chance to learn Irish next year. It’ll be a massive loss to the city.

"I speak to people daily who have come through the programme and they say how they love their múinteoirí (teachers) coming into their class and playing games with them. The teachers tell them how it’s their language and their culture and they go on to keep it on in secondary school for GCSE or A Level. Quite a few people go on to work in the Irish medium sector, some even work with us here.

Education Co-ordinator in Cultúrlann Uí Chanáin Carol McNamara.Education Co-ordinator in Cultúrlann Uí Chanáin Carol McNamara.
Education Co-ordinator in Cultúrlann Uí Chanáin Carol McNamara.

"Gone are the days when Irish is just a school subject. Here in An Chultúrlann, we understand how important it is that people see Irish as a living language that’s used daily by plenty of people here in the city. At the end of every year, we have a celebration event for the primary 7 pupils who have gone through the two or three years of the programme and we also have a showcase event where every class puts on a show for their parents and carers. The parents are always astounded that their children have learned so much Irish in such a short space of time.

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"The Department for Education have been good to us. In 2011, we created Léargas as a pilot programme and it’s grown into what we have now. We have have been working with them in partnership for years but it was always understood that we would continue until a similar programme was rolled out across the north. I appreciate the help they’ve given us but what they’re doing now is cutting a programme that’s proven to work.

"They’re not thinking strategically or long-term. They’re not thinking about when the Irish Language Act will be brought in here in the north. Irish is an official language here now in the six counties so every child here should have the opportunity to learn the language."

A spokesperson for the Department of Education said: “In delivering its statutory duty to encourage and facilitate the development of Irish-medium education, the Department undertakes a range of actions, funding support, and policy adaptations.

“The Department has now received its budget allocation for 2023-24 from the Northern Ireland Office and is working through the detail. The allocation is extremely challenging and may require significant reductions across a wide range of areas to remain within budget.

“The Department has already had to take a number of very difficult decisions including not to fully fund a number of initiatives beyond 31 March 2023.

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“The Léargas scheme has been allocated £13,000 for their programme up to 31 May 2023. Following consideration of the education budget, the Department will confirm the final funding position with Léargas for 2023/24.”

A petition to ‘Save Léargas’ has been set up online at https://bit.ly/41UQrpG