FINE GAEL was last night accused of using racist language as its call to “segregate” immigrant children with poor English provoked an explosive row.
Government Minister Martin Mansergh attacked the move as “irresponsible” as teaching unions and anti-racism groups also reacted angrily.
FG education spokesman Brian Hayes drew the heavy fire after he urged the separation of immigrant children having difficulty with English from mainstream classes until their language skills improved.
Unions branded the move “discrimination” and Mr Mansergh warned against Fine Gael using such loaded imagery.
“The word segregation has very negative connotations. It brings to mind images of racial segregation and a time where racism was not only condoned but was an everyday reality in many parts of the world.
“I would be disappointed if Deputy Hayes is consciously using emotive language for assumed political advantage and if he is speaking for the Fine Gael party in that regard,” said the minister.
Chairman of the country’s largest teachers union INTO, John Carr said dividing children would deprive immigrant pupils of contact with other students which could spur their learning.
He dismissed the Fine Gael idea as “discriminatory, inequitable and deeply flawed”.
ASTI said it only backed the idea of separate classes for students in the first few weeks of school in “immersion sessions”. “The ASTI has always supported the full integration of international pupils in our second-level schools. The ASTI has previously called for more English-language support for non-English speaking pupils,” said a union spokesperson.
National Action Plan Against Racism chairwoman Lucy Gaffney attacked Mr Hayes’s use of the emotive word “segregation” and condemned the Government for not setting clear guidelines for school in this area.
“The classroom is the ideal place for children from different cultures to mix. We should be doing all in our power to promote integration rather than separation.
“In this regard, comments from politicians suggesting that ‘segregation’ may be required are ill-judged,” she said.
An Education Department spokesperson said there is no educational basis for segregation of immigrant children from mainstream classes, except for short periods for language support. The spokesperson added the department is waiting for three reports before deciding if it needs to restructure the teaching of English.
Mr Hayes was unavailable for contact last night.
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