Irish language organisations and other bodies have called for targeted action to address what they say is a "broken system" of Irish language education.
Several hundred people, including primary and second-level school students, attended a demonstration outside the Dáil to push for the establishment of a dedicated expert working committee to develop a policy for Irish in the education system from early childhood education to third level.
The protest was organised by the Gaeilge4all campaign, which includes Irish language organisations such as Conradh na Gaeilge and An Gréasán, and has the support of second and third-level student unions USI and ISSU, as well as teacher unions the TUI and ASTI.
Gaeilge4all has called for "a satisfactory learning experience of Irish for every pupil in the education system".
A Gaeilge4all protest outside the Dáil this afternoon is calling for an expert working committee to be established to develop an overarching policy for Irish language education, & fix a 'broken system'. pic.twitter.com/JiT2iYpS2D— emma o kelly (@emma_okelly) March 29, 2023
Spokesperson Julian de Spáinn said: "The system is broken in terms of Irish in the education system. The specifications/syllabi are senseless for junior and senior cycles, for example, 90%+ of teachers are unhappy with them at junior cycle level".
"Exemptions are out of control with over 40,000 students in second level currently with an exemption and there is no plan to support students with special needs to ensure that they are facilitated to continue learning Irish instead of being shut out of it".
He also said there was a lack of gaelscoileanna & gaelcholáistí as an option for parents with only 7% of the country's students able to access places in these schools.
Mr de Spáinn criticised the number of students being granted exemptions from studying Irish.
Exemptions are granted to students with some learning disabilities and also those who arrived here from abroad as older children.
#Gaeilge4All Daltaí ag léirsiú taobh amuigh de Theach Laigheann inniú ag lorg polasaí don Ghaeloideachas @emma_okelly @rtenews @NuachtTG4 pic.twitter.com/1kvCYET5CP— Colm Mc Caughey (@colmwhatyalike) March 29, 2023
Mr de Spáinn also criticised the fact that the new primary curriculum framework reduces the mandatory minimum time that schools must spend teaching Irish by 30 minutes.
Irish is among a number of subjects that have had the minimum mandatory time required reduced from 2.5 to 2 hours weekly.
Minimum durations for the teaching of English, Maths and Religion have also been reduced but schools have been given more 'flexi' hours which they can use to augment teaching in different subject areas as they wish.
Mr de Spáinn said this change had been made "without any research being done on the implications this will have on the standard of Irish".
Gaeilge4all has pointed to the commitment given in the Programme for Government to provide a comprehensive policy for the Irish language from pre-primary education to teacher education for all schools", and it is calling for that commitment to be met.
A number of Gaelcholáistí from Dublin, Kildare and Galway took part in today's demonstration with many citing frustration with the Department over the lack of access to second level education through Irish.
In a statement the Department of Education said work on the development of a new policy for Irish-medium education outside of the Gaeltacht was now underway.
It said the new policy would build on the achievements of the Policy on Gaeltacht Education, and would be an important step towards achieving the Programme for Government commitments on Irish in the education system.
One of the key objectives of the policy is to explore how opportunities for the establishment of Gaelscoileanna and Gaelcholáistí can be increased as part of the patronage process. A consultation process is currently taking place to inform the development of the policy.