A group of north Belfast parents whose children attend the only Irish medium post-primary school in the North of Ireland, Coláiste Feirste in west Belfast, have released an alarming report today (13th August 2014) with the support of PPR, entitled Tuistí an Tuaiscirt: #busanois [‘Parents of the North: #busnow’] which calls on the Minister for Education to address the long standing issue of transport provision from north Belfast to the school.

PPR have been working with the parents and students of Coláiste Feirste since May 2014.

Tuistí an Tuaiscirt: #busanois examines the impact of the Department of Education’s policy of not providing buses to transport students from north Belfast both on parents in particular, and the future of Irish medium education in general.

The research report finds that:

  • in the 2014/15 school year, parents of students from north Belfast will collectively pay approximately £31,400 providing transport to Colaiste Feirste for their children;
  • 79% of respondents with children in Naíscoil (Irish medium nursery) and Bunscoil (Irish medium primary) said that the failure by the Department to provide transport ‘could’ (59%) or ‘will’ (20%) prevent them from sending their children to Coláiste Feirste.

Put simply, the current policy operated by the Department means that parents from some of the most economically deprived areas in our society are spending significant amounts of household income subsidising the development of Irish medium education. Furthermore this situation is having the indirect consequence of discouraging parents from enrolling their children in post-primary Irish medium education.

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 to the school. 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.”

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.

The promotion of the Irish language has been recognised as a key human rights issue. The European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages which was ratified by the UK government in March 2001) states that government should take ‘resolute action’ to promote these languages. This commitment was also replicated in the Good Friday Agreement. 

However parents are optimistic that the report will assist the Minister to use the powers available to him and intervene in time for the new school year. Breda Close, a parent with two children at Coláiste Feirste, said:

“We’re hoping our report is helpful to the Minister in sorting this issue out. The report provides strong evidence of the negative impact which the failure to provide transport is having on the development of Irish medium education, and how putting buses on would help the Department to meet their legal duties.”

“The Good Friday Agreement committed to addressing the historic lack of resources or support provided to Irish medium education, and we still have a long way to go. One small and modest step is for the Department to provide transport to encourage people to choose Irish medium education. And there is no reason why this can’t be done by 1st September.”

The report comes in the wake of a highly successful campaign by parents and pupils which has received twitter and facebook messages of support from across the world – including support from U.S. actor David Koechner best known for his starring role in ‘Anchorman’.