Number of children being taught through Irish hits record level
The number of pupils being taught through Irish in primary school reached record levels in the last school year.
Nearly one in 12 primary pupils are receiving their education through Irish, Department of Education figures show.
The number of Irish pupils for whom Irish is the first language of education has risen from 6.4pc in 2000 to 8.1pc in 2018/19.
A total of 45,278 students in 247 primary schools were taught through Irish in the last school year, an annual increase of 1.5pc.
Most of the schools - 147 with nearly 38,000 pupils - are outside Gaeltacht areas.
However, the proportion of students being educated through Irish varies.
The highest rate is in Galway city where nearly a quarter of all primary schoolchildren are taught through Irish, while Cork city and county, Galway county, Donegal and Monaghan all have rates of over 10pc.
By contrast, Cavan has the lowest rate at less than 1pc. Only one gaelscoil is available in Roscommon, Sligo, Laois, Longford, Kilkenny and Carlow.
An Foras Patrunachta, the largest patron of gaelscoileanna, welcomed a new scheme by Education Minister Joe McHugh to increase access to Irish-medium education.
Under it, a new school established in an area with a growing population will be a gaelscoil if there is no existing one.
At least one school will provide education through Irish where a number of new schools are being established in the same school planning area.
Other measures include a pilot on delivering two eight- classroom schools, one in English and one in Irish, in a shared building rather than one 16-classroom school, and a chance for schools to change their teaching language to Irish.
An Foras Patrunachta's general secretary, Caoimhin O hEaghra, said the changes would help address "an imbalance" in the provision of Irish-medium education.
The patron body said a pilot patronage process system, where parents indicated their choice of ethos and language of instruction of new primary schools, showed 26pc on average favoured a school providing classes through Irish.
"These steps will result in supply better meeting demand and moving away from a situation where less than 5pc of primary schools are gaelscoileanna," Mr O hEaghra said.
There is only one gaelscoil in Co Cavan, which first opened 25 years ago, but its numbers have grown from 30 to 100 within the past two years.
Mr O hEaghra said many students attending gaelscoileanna still struggled to continue their education through Irish after leaving primary school due to the relatively small number of gaelcholaisti.
At secondary level, a total of 13,051 students in 49 schools were taught through Irish in the recent school year - 3.6pc of all post-primary pupils.
Mr O hEaghra claimed that the use of the existing Aonad system - an Irish-medium unit within a mainstream English-medium secondary school - had proved "an extremely flawed model".
A Department of Education official told the Herald there is no target for the proportion of students to be educated through Irish.