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Mark me in at the school across the border

By Máirtín Ó Muilleoir


* Pictured above: Davy Seaton, Director of the Belfast Marathon, sees off Claire Trainor of NI Children’s Hospice and our own Máirtín Ó Muilleoir on a practice fun ahead of the gruelling 7 May run. Máirtín will be covering the 26.2 mile course to raise funds for the Children’s Hospice, setting a target of £2,000 with the half that sum pitched in by the Belfast Media Group. Look out for Máirtín’s official Gaeilge tee-shirt for ‘Ospís Páistí Thuaisceart Éireann’ on the day.

Like Jude Collins (keep reading, he’s in this week’s edition too), I’m a big fan of John O’Dowd’s proposal to allow people along the border to educate their children in the school they prefer – regardless of what state it sits in.

This makes sense for me,  especially as the southern style of education, similar to the international Baccalaureate, is viewed as giving a better foundation for college to our youth.

So crossing the border if a school was closer would tick a lot of the boxes for me – if I ever moved to a border county and started a new family, that is. In the meantime, I have a way to make this dream of a cross-border education come true for children in Belfast, for those attending the Irish schools at any rate.

Since the Irish medium sector in the South is vibrant and revered for the quality of its education, why don’t our young people here attending Gaelscoileanna follow the Southern curriculum i nGaeilge?

The good news for the Executive is that it would save the Department of Education much-needed cash since there would be no need to provide separate Irish language materials for GCSE and A-Level students.

And with everyone following the same curriculum, you would have an all-island education system. Now that would be a nice way to unite our people – starting with the Irish speakers.


The Irish language continues to excite debate in City Hall, where attempts to assure a de minimis position for An Ghaeilge on a par with that at City Hall last Christmas floundered at the monthly Council meeting.

As Peter Robinson and co turn on the charm and celebrate the success of major projects such as Titanic Belfast (note the local MP Naomi Long didn’t get a word in at either of the two openings on Friday and Saturday), the Alliance Party is backing away from its commitment to a diverse city where the Irish language should be cherished. Expect instead the bogus contention that Irish should remain as it has been in official Council life for a century – unseen, unheard and unspoken.

That will be music to the ears of the unionist minority which is keen to keep Irish in the ha’penny place, but as the City Fathers and Mothers struggle with a new policy on Irish, the ball is in the court of our young Irish speaking activists.

In my view, there’s an onus on the burgeoning Gaeilge community to make it known that they want the promise of the Good Friday Agreement –  which pledged “robust action” for Irish – delivered.

At Monday’s full Council we gave full voice to that view:   there was more Irish spoken in the chamber, courtesy of our bilingual Lord Mayor, than at any time over the past year. A sign, undoubtedly, of the pressure mounting for fair play for Irish. That march towards equality will be given another fillip on April 24 when representatives of the Irish language groups across Belfast gather to discuss how best to win this last of the crucial civil rights struggles.

It’s a pity that, in this time of peace, unionists don’t reciprocate the generosity nationalists showed in greenlighting projects like Titanic Belfast and the Connswater Greenway in East Belfast (cheques for £10m and £5m from Council respectively) by showing goodwill to An Ghaeilge. For the route of protest and campaigning undermines all our efforts to demonstrate that Belfast really is once again among the greatest of European cities.


Mind you, mark me down as a fan of Titanic Belfast. It will be a gamechanger for Belfast and I was glad to be at the glitzy opening ceremony on Friday night. I have no doubt but that this project will be our Guggenheim, transforming, as the famous museum in Bilbao did, the city’s fortunes.

I am also with Martin McGuinness, who gave the speech of the evening at the opening, in believing that we shouldn’t let our dark past ruin our bright future.

Just because Catholics were treated like second-class citizens in the shipyard of old doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t ensure all our people are treated equally in the new developments along the old yard.

As Martin McGuiness put it on the night: I am for writing a new history.

Hear, hear.

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