DOWNPATRICK Councillor Cadogan Enright celebrated a successful end to a five year campaign last week to win local Irish speaking children equal access to education in line with all other educational sectors. Now Irish speaking students has equal access to transport to and from their schools.
Cllr Enright said, “As a campaigner for the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, I was particularly pleased that Judge Treacy ruled that the Agreement was not merely aspirational but was intended to have ‘practical consequences and legislative significance’. This case will be a landmark case not just for Irish language rights, but for the Peace Agreement as a whole”.
Following a long and costly campaign, Cllr Enright persuaded his daughter’s school, Coláiste Feirste, to pursue a Judicial Review at Belfast High Court. The Judicial Review challenged policy set by senior civil servants and resulted in a comprehensive victory for the children.
Downpatrick Cllr Cadogan Enright, right, with Killough family Ruairdhai, Fionntán and Deirdre O’Fionnail, solicitor Pól Graham and Colaiste Feirste Vice principle Colma McKee left at the High Court in Belfast last week.
“The Department was stuck in a pre-1998 time-warp on this issue and the Judge complemented us for attempting to resolve the matter over a ‘lengthy period in a thorough, considered and diplomatic manner in order to arrive at workable solution’ ” said Cllr Enright.
“The Department had maintained that the provision of transport had no effect on the success of any school. We pointed out that there were over 2020 dedicated buses taking children to school in other sectors over and above normal bus timetables, and none at all in the Irish medium sector. Judge Treacy ruled that ‘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’. He directed that bus transport be provided in line with the Integrated sector.”
Cadogan Enright added, “In my view, discrimination against Irish speakers goes to the heart of the Peace Process. A case like this could never occur in Wales for instance, as there is widespread acceptance of the acceptability of Welsh in Wales by all political parties. Many otherwise moderate, reasonable people seem to lose control of their faculties when faced with the Irish language in Northern Ireland, and this pervades officialdom. For instance, the Tourist Board refuse to fund signs in Down District if any Irish language is used.
“Political opposition to the Good Friday Agreementr provisions on Irish is not limited to the likes of Jim Wells of the DUP. The Alliance Party and even my own party leader Steve Agnew MLA in the Green Party campaign against the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement on Irish language rights and other aspects of the Peace Agreement. This creates unnecessary on-going tension in the Green Party.
“It is a tribal thing. But I am old enough to remember when it was legal to discriminate against people because of their skin colour or sex, and it is only a few short years since Gay Rights were implemented in Northern Ireland… I am confident that international Human Rights law will triumph in the end,” said Cllr Cadogan Enright.
Cllr Enright also thanked the Lecale Gaelic Society for making a contribution of £500 towards the costs of the legal case.
Ruane Says Department Has A Statutory Duty To Promote Irish Medium Sector
South Down Sinn Féin MLA Caitríona Ruane has welcomed the court decision that the Department of Education must reconsider its refusal to provide a dedicated bus service for children from Downpatrick who attend Cólaiste Feirste in Belfast.
Caitríona Ruane said, “I welcome any measure to make it easier for children to attend schools in the Irish medium sector and I have no doubt that the Education Minister will study the implications of the ruling.
“The Department of Education has a statutory duty to encourage and facilitate Irish medium education. The court decision is important in that it clarifies that this duty is more than aspirational.
“This finally casts aside the legal view proffered within the Department, and which I challenged repeatedly at the time, that their responsibility with respect to Irish language schools did not include the provision of designated transport facilities.
“While in the short term it will make it easier for children to access post-primary education through the medium of Irish, in the long-term the key is to provide post-primary education within the local area.
“This has been the case with the allocation of an IM Unit in St Malachy’s High School, Castlewellan, which will hopefully grow and take away the need for children to travel to Belfast.”