PPR have been working with Irish language rights activists and parents of the school for the last number of months. Tuistí an Tuaiscirt have recently completed a human rights survey of parents from north Belfast whose children attend Irish medium education. Results are due to be released shortly.
The issue of lack of transportation to Coláiste Feirste is not new.
In 2011 a judicial review decision found against the Department of Education, citing its failure to provide adequate transport arrangements. Justice Treacy concluded:
“In my view the provision of transport facilities to schools in any sector is critical to the development of that sector and the provision of genuine parental choice. ...it is not possible to divorce the development of schools from the means by which students are going to get to them.”
Justice Treacy also stated:
“[the Department of Education] may facilitate and encourage the [Irish medium] post primary sector in ways that it need not for other sectors by taking positive steps or removing obstacles which inhibit the statutory objective.”
Parents argue that failure to provide dedicated transport is an obstacle to promoting Irish medium education.
In fact, the development of Integrated Education was promoted through the provision of dedicated bus services for children, this assistance has supported it in becoming the growing educational sector that it is today.
However, three years after the judicial review Irish medium education in general, and parents and pupils in particular, are still being disadvantaged by the continuing failure to provide permanent dedicated transportation for children wishing to attend Coláiste Feirste.
For parents and pupils, the Minister and his Department have had time enough to sort this problem out. Nicola McMaster, a north Belfast parent of Coláiste Feirste pupil who is involved in the Tuistí an Tuaiscirt campaign said:
“For parents there are two key issues – safety and cost. Some parents from north Belfast are paying over £20 a week on bus fares to enable their children to attend Irish medium education. The response of the Department is that some of us live within 2.9 miles and should walk to Coláiste Feirste – but that 2.9 miles is actually a walk to Coláiste Feirste through the Shankill and past the Twaddell camp. The only reasonable way to walk is so long it would basically mean our kids could not attend Coláiste Feirste. This is unacceptable.”
“We are not asking for anything we don’t have a right to. The government has a duty to promote Irish medium education and that also means providing adequate and appropriate access to the only Irish Medium Secondary school in the north of Ireland. The government have done it before with Integrated Education, and it is time Irish language speakers were afforded the rights which were promised in the Good Friday Agreement.”
“We’re asking the Minister to act quickly. Solve this issue before the new school term in September. That is within his power, and it is his responsibility.”
Dessie Donnelly, PPR Director (Development), who has been providing support to the parents said:
“The parents’ case for a dedicated bus to transport children from north Belfast to Northern Ireland’s only Irish Medium secondary school Coláiste Feirste is compelling in terms of the need and its basis in domestic and international law. Young people have a right, which has been ratified by both the Irish and UK governments, to access culturally appropriate education. The Good Friday Agreement, as well as committing to a so-far unfulfilled Irish Language Act, guaranteed that Irish Medium education would be promoted.
“Three years on from the judicial review, and there is still no resolution to the problem. This is not acceptable. It not only places undue financial pressures on some parents, but crucially the refusal to provide adequate transport arrangements effectively acts as a deterrent to parents of Naíscoil and Bunscoil pupils who are considering keeping their children in Irish Medium education post-primary.”
“In January 2014, the Council of Europe noted the “persisting hostile climate” towards the Irish Language in the Assembly. This “persisting hostile climate” should not be allowed to frustrate people’s right to access education. The Minister has both the power and the responsibility to sort this issue out, and it can be done quickly and easily. Talk to parents and put a bus on.”