'It has skyrocketed' - Irish exemptions 'slowly killing the language'

Figures suggest one-in-eight students have an Irish language exemption at secondary level
Jack Quann
Jack Quann

14.27 8 Feb 2024

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'It has skyrocketed' - Irish e...

'It has skyrocketed' - Irish exemptions 'slowly killing the language'

Jack Quann
Jack Quann

14.27 8 Feb 2024

Share this article

A school principal has said exemptions from studying the Irish language have 'skyrocketed' since anxiety was included in the criteria.

An Oireachtas Committee has recommended getting rid of the current system of exemptions.

It is asking the Education Minister to implement a new system that would focus on learning a second language.


Principal of Alexandra College in Dublin, Barbara Ennis, told Lunchtime Live she believes exemptions are too common.

"I think they made a fatal mistake last year when they amended the circular to include the criterion of anxiety as a reason for granting an exemption," she said.

"The other amendment was that if somebody applies on the basis of having a learning difficulty, they have to engage in a process of remedial work with their English, Irish and learning support teacher.

"If they are not in receipt of official learning support then they have to get it.

"What I found at school level is that the number of people applying for exemptions has absolutely skyrocketed.

"The pressure on my team - of English, Irish and learning support teachers - has gone through the roof to the point where we just can't continue to work at this level."

'Irish always got the whack'

Leaving Cert students who receive H6 grades and above in Higher Level Maths are awarded 25 bonus points.

Ms Ennis said she believes it comes down to the points race.

"There's always been a cohort of students in every school who feel that Irish is not worth the amount of work... in order to get the score required and the point when they can do Higher Level Maths that gets the extra 25 points," she said.

"I noticed that when that extra 25 points came in for Maths there was a big dilemma in the students minds, about whether they do Higher Level Maths and Higher Level Irish.

"Poor old Irish always got the whack.

"Why would you not give 25 extra points for Higher Level Irish as well as for Maths?"

Ms Ennis said this approach seems unfair to the school, the country and the language.

"It's basically a slow, stealthy killing of the language," she said.

"The amount of pressure that's being put on the personnel in the school is making it much easier just to say, 'Just give them the exemption'.

"That's not the way I want things to be - I want our language to be preserved and taught".

'Skill levels'

Conradh na Gaeilge General-Secretary Julian de Spáinn told the show it seems to be an Irish solution to an Irish problem.

"We'd be very concerned that we've got to the point where one-in-eight has an exemption in secondary school now," he said.

"It's because the system's broken, no two ways of looking at it, but the Department of Education won't do anything about it.

"What they're doing is an Irish solution to an Irish problem.

"You don't get exemptions in other countries around the world for similar situations with second languages and third languages.

"What they do is they provide supports to the students at their needs.

"The experts say 2% to 3% will probably still need an exemption even if you change the system."

Mr de Spáinn said the way Irish is taught should be changed based on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.

"It looks at the skills of a student, and they can see that you can be at a different skill level - say oral - rather than the written language.

"Therefore a student with a learning difficulty, for example, why can't they do the Leaving Cert based on oral Irish only?

"Why couldn't we have a system that's flexible?" he added.

Mr de Spáinn said the current system is avoiding dealing with the problem.

Listen back here:

Main image: Students carrying bags and books in September 2018. Image: PA Images/Alamy Stock Photo/Ben Birchall

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Alexandra College Barbara Ennis Conradh Na Gaeilge Irish Language Irish Language Exemption Julian De Spáinn Leaving Certificate Leaving Certificate Points Lunchtime Live Oireachtas Committee Oireachtas Committee On The Irish Language School Principal

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