On Thursday 10th May at 10.30 in Coláiste Feirste, Belfast’s Irish Medium secondary school, POBAL, the independent advocacy organisation for the Irish language, launched its research report, Further and Higher Education, Training and Employment Experience of past pupils of Irish Medium Education in Belfast – 1970s to the present.
Coláiste Feirste’s Principal, Garaí Mac Roibeaird, opened the event, and other guest speakers included Liam Ó Flannagáin, CEO of Comhairle na Gaelscolaíochta and Eibhlín Mhic Aoidh from St Mary’s University College.
Janet Muller, POBAL’s Director, said, ‘There is a lack of base line data regarding the education, training, and employment status of former pupils of Irish Medium schools in Belfast (and elsewhere), in spite of the fact that it is now more than 45 years since the first Irish medium primary school, Bunscoil Phobail Feirste opened its doors. This research, carried out with funding from Belfast City Council under its Capacity Building programme, will provide a valuable information resource for educationalists, government bodies, Irish language groups, training providers and others. It will help to build capacity and strengthen ongoing work, including opportunities for forward planning, building the local labour market and matching capacity with employment opportunities. ‘
She continued, ‘A sense of ability and confidence emerges from much of the responses to the research, Nonetheless there is also an awareness of marginalisation and exclusion from the mainstream. The research highlights the concern of respondents at the lack of legislative protection for Irish and the paucity of Irish language services and visibility in their localities.’
Some significant findings from the research:
- Respondents are overwhelming in their call for more services and more support for Irish speakers and for the ‘normalisation’ of the public use of the language through legislation, increased visibility and new and improved services.
- Whilst post code alone is not a reliable indicator of the full range of socio-economic factors, many of those attending IM schools in the past 45 years have lived in areas of recognised multiple disadvantage, and all of the schools themselves are located in such areas.
- Respondents indicate a wide range of employment experience. Our research reveals professionals, civil servants, administrators, retailers, artists, IT and digital specialists, youth workers, teachers, hospitality workers, health professionals and more. There is a high percentage of Third Level education and qualifications in an extensive range of specialisms and areas of life.
- The majority of respondents to the research (51.6%) are currently employed in settings where the main language of the workplace is Irish. They, along with some of the 40% who did not work in predominantly Irish speaking environments, cited using the language with colleagues (84.4%), managers (58.3%), owners of companies (28.9%), customers (68%) and Irish language groups (71.1%). This shows not only a very high level of ongoing use of Irish in the workplace from past pupils, it also gives a flavour of the range of opportunities for people carrying out their day to day business to come into contact with the Irish language.
- Use of Irish among respondents is not however confined to the workplace. We asked if respondents used Irish either often or occasionally in their personal lives. 94% said that they did. Very high percentages (86.6%) stated that they used the language with friends, on social media (69.1%) and with either their children (41.6%) or their parents (44.3%).
Janet said, ‘There is no doubt that the Irish language is a living part of the vibrancy of the city and that this presents opportunities for Belfast City Council and other agencies to continue to develop initiatives, policies and practices that support a full range of services and provision for all sections of the community. ‘
The research report is available on