Belfast Telegraph

Gregory Campbell's 'curry my yogurt' comments about Irish language overshadow real story

By Samuel Morrison

Comments about the Irish language in the Assembly have been making headlines this week but the media has chosen to focus on remarks made on Monday by an MLA rather than the much more significant announcement by the Education Minister on Tuesday.

John O’Dowd committed his Department to a policy of not just meeting a desire for post-primary Irish-medium education (if such a desire exists) but to “proactively encourage and facilitate” it.

Among the plans unveiled by O’Dowd are bursaries for teachers willing to undergo conversion courses and move from English medium schools into Irish medium education and incentives to schools which teach GCSE and A-level Irish by way of a pupil bursary and a school fund for scholarships.

O’Dowd’s proposals are grossly unfair to non-Irish medium secondary and grammar schools as they create an uneven playing field. Furthermore, where are the proposed bursaries for teachers with an ability to teach French or German? They don’t exist.

This is in spite of the fact that in November 2012 the British Council published a report which warned that, “The situation as regards modern foreign languages in secondary schools in Northern Ireland has deteriorated rapidly” and went on to say that we are “a long way from being self-sufficient in producing linguists in the languages likely to be most needed by [our] businesses in future, such as Asian languages and a wider range of European languages.”

The report concluded noting that Northern Ireland had a “weak profile as regards foreign language learning and now needs to give this a much higher priority at all levels in the education system.”

Yet the Education Minister is fixated with pushing Irish - a language which even its most enthusiastic proponent would have to concede is of no use in the world of international business - for his own political reasons.

The question which Gregory Campbell and others in the DUP have to face is, what are they going to do about it? Will they use the veto they are so fond of talking about to put the brakes on O’Dowd’s plans? I certainly didn’t hear any suggestion of that during Tuesday’s discussion in the Assembly.

It’s one thing to manufacture a row in the Assembly about Irish for the benefit of the cameras in the lead up to election year. It’s quite another to do something of substance and stop the squander of public money on unfair and unjustified preferential treatment for Irish medium secondary education.

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