Children attending Irish Speaking school in the Newcastle and Downpatrick areas have been denied transport to get them to school by Department of Education officials. Department Officials claim they have an exemption under the Human Rights Act in respect of Irish Language and Cultural Education. The children concerned have received considerable support from the Human Rights Commissioners Office and from the Children’s Rights Commissioner.
By contrast, children from South Down attending Methody or Victoria have Translink buses laid on by the same officials, even though the number of children attending these schools is much smaller. SEELB officials have referred appeals over this matter to the Department.
As a result children as young as 11 have a huge commute to Coláiste Feirste in Belfast, a situation that in the past has persuaded many parents whose children attended one of the local Irish speaking Primary Schools not to let their children go on to secondary school through Irish.
Councillor Cadogan Enright said that “As far as we can tell the UK is the only European Government to have sought a Human Rights exemption to another European country’s language and culture in this manner. We have checked with Green Parties in other countries in Europe with mixed nationalities and this sort of situation is unheard of. The Green Party in England and Wales could not believe it when we told them. No such situation could possibly arise in Wales”
Cllr Eamonn Mc Conn Midhe of Sinn Fein pointed out “The Good Friday Agreement as amended at St Andrews was supposed to make this type of issue a thing of the past. Unfortunately Department Officials are grimly hanging onto discriminatory regulations that pre-date the GFA, and claim that even though the British Government has signed up to the European Convention and Framework Directive on minority Languages, the Department can ignore these laws as they have not been ratified as per the GFA.”
Claire NicInnreactaigh is spokesperson for the children currently travelling to Coláiste Feirste. Claire is in 5th year at Coláiste Feirste taking 5 “A” levels in Maths, Biology, Art, French and Irish. Claire said “I have personally canvassed Education Minister Catriona Ruane who was very supportive. Now that her civil servants are finally reporting back to her on this issue we hope to see support from her in this constituency and for others in a similar situation around N.I.”.
Claire concluded by saying, “We are like a big family in Coláiste Feirste, with the older children looking after the younger ones on a buddy system, and we give younger children help with their studies on the long journeys we have to currently endure. We really appreciate the offers of support we have received from nearly all political parties on this issue”.