Hundreds bring protest to Education Authority offices in support of Irish language youth clubs
Strong message delivered to head of EA – ‘Irish medium youth clubs must have core status’
Over 800 protesters brought academy in Belfast to a standstill in a vibrant and colourful display of vocal opposition to the Education Authority’s removal of funding from Irish medium youth services which resulted in the closure of four Belfast-based youth clubs this week. Hundreds of children and young people handed over a 1000 letters to demand the immediate restoration of this youth provision and an urgent meeting with the Department of Education and the EA.
Speaking at the protest, Club Óige na bhFál member Erin McKinley (16-year old) said:
‘I’ve been totally devastated since we learned that they took away our funding and this has motivated me and my friends to get involved in this campaign to save our youth services and the get the funding support that we are entitled to.’
Having handed in the letters, the protesters then engaged in a peaceful sit-down protest in the offices. Conchur Ó Muadaigh, the Youth leader in charge of Cumann Óige Uachtar Chluanaí, who had the funding for his post withdrawn last Friday stated:
‘Disgraceful decisions have consequences and we wanted bring our frustration and the widespread anger felt in the community since these services were removed to the doors of those responsible. No longer, will we accept being treated less favourably than those around us where funding can be removed at a whim without consideration for the adverse impact on our young people.’
Speaking after the protest, Glór na Móna Director, Feargal Mac Ionnrachtaigh, stated:
‘We welcome today’s commitment from the Chief Executive of the EA, Gavin Boyd, who has assured us that they are willing to engage with us constructively to find an immediate resolution to our situation that will enable us to restore our current youth provision. Furthermore, Mr Boyd agreed to meet with us next week in recognition of the need for EA to work towards mainstreaming Irish medium youth services and adopting a long-term, resourced and strategic approach to this provision.
‘Irish medium youth work must have core status and we will continue to campaign until the Department fulfils its statutory duty to encourage and facilitate Irish Medium Education.’
Glór na Móna are an Irish Language and Community Organisation based in Gael-ionad Mhic Goill, 4 Whiterock Close, BT 12 7RG.
All inquiries to Feargal Mac Ionnrachtaigh on firstname.lastname@example.org or 07841101630
Notes for Editor:
The Belfast Irish medium clubs to close are: Cumann Óige Uachtar Chluanaí in the Upper Springfield Area, Club Óige na bhFál on the Falls Road, Cumann Óige Ghlór an Ghleanna in Andersonstown and Club Óige Mhachaire Bótháin in Oldpark, North Belfast – see www.glornamona.com
Article 89 of the Education (Northern Ireland) Order 1998 places a statutory duty on the Department of Education to ‘encourage and facilitate’ Irish-medium education. In the case of Coláiste Feirste v Department of Education (2011) NIQB 89, Justice Treacy offered clearer guidance on the practical implications of this obligation – this duty was to have ‘practical consequences and legislative significance.’
This requires the Department of Education to take steps to ‘encourage and facilitate’ the growth of the Irish-medium education sector, implementing pro-active measures to build the Irish-medium education sector.
In 2009, a review of Irish-medium education highlighted a range of issues that needed to be addressed in order to strengthen and develop the Irish-medium youth sector. Recommendation 18 of this review stated:
“The Department of Education should encourage and support informal opportunities for learning through the medium of Irish in the youth sector.”
This recommendation explicitly shows that the duty to encourage and facilitate Irish-medium education includes, provision for informal learning opportunities. Therefore, the development and expansion of the Irish-medium youth sector is essential to the full implementation of this statutory duty. This also aligns with Article 37 of the Education Libraries (NI) Order 1986 which secures the provision of adequate facilities for youth service activities. In the current youth work context, Priorities for Youth (2013), (the NI policy framework for the delivery of youth services) makes explicit reference to the implementation of Recommendation 18 above, thus offering further optimism for the growth of the Irish-medium youth sector.