Belfast Telegraph

Irish language for all Ulster schools - SDLP
DUP dismiss idea as 'a stunt'

By Chris Thornton
29 December 2003

THE SDLP called today for Irish to be made a compulsory subject for every Northern Ireland school - leading to accusations they were trying to be 'greener' than Sinn Fein.

The party's spokesman on the Irish language, Assembly member Patsy McGlone, said the SDLP will introduce a new bill to make Irish an official language if devolved powers are returned to Stormont.

He said they will also "press" for the language to be introduced into all schools as a core subject.

But the DUP dismissed the plan as an unworkable stunt cooked up by the SDLP to compete with Sinn Fein.

"I don't know when the SDLP are going to stop this stupid competition with Sinn Fein to see who can be more green," said DUP Assembly member Sammy Wilson, a former teacher.

"It's very wrong to use school kids as part of this."

But Mr McGlone said the plan "means developing a cultural heritage programme in schools and establishing a Resource Unit in the Dept of Education to co-ordinate the position of Irish in English language schools".

However, under present Assembly rules, neither proposal would be likely to succeed under unionist opposition.

Mr McGlone said the SDLP's aim is to achieve the "same support and official backing" for Irish culture in the North as it receives in the Republic.

"We want people North and South to look upon Irish and English as their official languages," the Mid Ulster representative said.

"We want people to welcome and rejoice in their national culture."

Mr Wilson said it is important for young people to study languages, but said it would be better for them to learn languages that have "economic value rather than a dead language".

"Even within the nationalist community the number of people who are competent at Irish or want to be competent at Irish is limited".

He said schools should be concentrating resources on "numeracy and literacy in the language children use in everyday life", rather than being forced to spread resources to another compulsory subject.

Mr McGlone said the proposed Irish Language bill would "give full legal recognition to Irish and create parity of esteem between Irish and English.

"This would allow people to deal with public bodies in Irish," Mr McGlone added.

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