Wednesday, 23 June 1999
Dáil Éireann Debate
Mr. Creed: I thank the Chair for the opportunity to raise this matter. In raising it I am returning to a theme I have raised previously on the Adjournment and on Question Time. I feel genuinely committed to the issue as I think primary schools in Gaeltacht areas are experiencing educational discrimination. I have no doubt that in time reality will dawn. I have raised this matter with the Minister, the Minister of State, and their predecessors and I will continue to raise it until that disadvantage is resolved.
A number of years ago Ballingeary which is in a Gaeltacht area, lost a primary school and that was when I first became aware in a very practical way of the educational disadvantage in terms of  funding and pupil-teacher ratio which primary schools in Gaeltacht areas suffer relative to their counterparts, the Gaelscoileanna. It must be remembered that pupils entering Gaelscoileanna do so of the one mind, willing to embrace Irish, and State policy is supportive. However, in many Gaeltacht communities throughout the country, something I am sure the Minister of State will appreciate, pupils enter primary schools, some of whom speak Irish as their mother tongue, some of whom, like the majority of pupils, have a sympathy towards but not a great familiarity with Irish while in many Gaeltacht regions a significant portion of pupils are non-nationals and have no familiarity with the language. Because of this there is a significant educational disadvantage in classrooms in Gaeltacht primary schools which can only be resolved through a commitment to providing them with a pupil-teacher ratio, capitation and all other supports similar to the most favourable levels pertaining in Gaelscoileanna.
This problem has again raised its head in my constituency in the Gaeltacht primary school in Baile Mhuirne. I understand from research I have carried out that there are three primary schools in Gaeltacht areas in a similar situation, namely, in Ring in County Waterford, in Baile Mhuirne and in County Donegal. I know Rome was not built in a day and I understand the consequences of delivering equalisation between primary schools in Gaeltacht areas and Gaelscoileanna in one fell swoop is not on. However, there should be a phased approach which would show Gaeltacht primary schools that the disadvantage they are under is recognised and will be tackled in a manner which will not deliver a similar pupil-teacher ratio overnight but which will guarantee that until such time as enrolment drops below the enrolment level required in Gaelscoileanna the number of teachers currently serving in Gaeltacht primary schools will not be reduced.
For the primary school in Baile Mhuirne to retain the teacher who is about to be lost on 1 September 1999 it would be necessary to have had an enrolment of 155 pupils. However, the enrolment in September 1998 was 146. This is the figure necessary to retain six teachers and one remedial teacher. In Gaelscoileanna, 122 pupils are necessary to retain six teachers. Because of all the other factors found in a classroom in a primary school in a Gaeltacht area, I firmly believe the pupils in the Gaeltacht are at a significant educational disadvantage relative to those in Gaelscoileanna, quite apart from the more favourable pupil-teacher ratio.
In the context of Baile Mhuirne and all Gaeltacht primary schools, where some parents of pupils speak to their children through Irish while some have a passing knowledge or are not familiar with the language, I am asking the Minister to move towards equalisation over a period of years and for a commitment that the services of  individual teachers will not be withdrawn until such time as enrolment drops below the figure required in Gaelscoileanna.
Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science (Mr. O'Dea): The Deputy has raised two matters. The staffing of primary schools is determined by reference to the enrolment of the school on 30 September of the previous school year. This is in accordance with guidelines agreed between this Department and the education partners.
The current staffing of the school in question is a principal and five mainstream class teachers based on an enrolment of 155 pupils on 30 September 1997. The school also has the services of a shared remedial teacher. The enrolment on 30 September 1998, on which the staffing for the 1999-2000 school year is based, was 146 pupils. Unfortunately, this figure does not meet the retention requirement for the fifth mainstream class teacher. This is despite the fact that the retention figure was reduced from 155 under the 1998-99 staffing schedule to 150 under the 1999-2000 staffing schedule.
The Deputy refers to the continuing disadvantage of Gaeltacht national schools relative to Gaelscoileanna. At the outset, I must acknowledge that Gaelscoileanna enjoy a more favourable overall pupil-teacher ratio than that which applies in all other mainstream primary schools, including those which operate within Gaeltacht areas. The rationale for this lies in the desire to cultivate and rejuvenate the Irish language within society. Clearly, the fulfilment of this task is infinitely more achievable within Gaeltacht communities. Here a combination of factors, including historical attachment to the Irish language, an inherent sense of cultural identity derived from speaking the native tongue and a sheer delight in conversing in fluent Irish, have ensured that the Irish language is thriving within these communities.
While the attachment of Irish people to the Irish language is not in doubt, unfortunately the same impetus does not always exist in non-Gaeltacht communities. However, the Gaelscoileanna movement has presented an opportunity for the proliferation of the Irish language among non-Gaeltacht communities. This opportunity must be seized so that every citizen of the State will be able to learn in an all-Irish environment. It is, accordingly, fitting that incentives such as a more favourable pupil-teacher ratio are offered to Gaelscoileanna to assist in strengthening and developing the spread of the Irish language among non-Gaeltacht communities. Successive Governments have positively discriminated in favour of Gaelscoileanna over the years.
 On a general note, I can assure the Deputy that the Government is committed to further reducing the pupil-teacher ratio. The pupil-teacher ratio in primary schools has been significantly reduced in recent years and now stands at 21:1. This ratio will be further reduced in the next school year as a result of the substantial improvements we have implemented to the 1999-2000 staffing schedule.
If Deputy Creed studies the official reply  which he received, he will note that this reply is somewhat different. He can expect some developments in this area because I am informed that the Minister will be making a general policy statement on this matter in the very near future.
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