Fine Gael is calling for the ending of Irish as a compulsory subject, claiming students would be better off using their school time to study subjects they are interested in.
New figures show 15.8% of the 55,000 students who sat the Leaving Cert last year chose not to do the Irish exam. The number choosing not to do it has increased by about 600 a year since 2006.
Education Minister Mary Coughlan said: “While Irish is an essential subject that must be studied by all students other than those who have been granted an exemption, there is no obligation on students to sit an examination in the subject.”
Fine Gael’s education spokesman Brian Hayes claims the numbers are not down to exemptions, or an increase in students who have recently arrived in the country, but the fact that students are “voting with their feet”.
He said: “If 15% of all kids who have to do Irish don’t even turn up for the exam it’s an example of the crisis the language is facing in schools.”
Fine Gael believes Irish should not be compulsory after Junior Cert, but rather than damaging Irish this would “liberate the language” according to Mr Hayes. “It will get people doing the language who want to do it,” he said.
“If you don’t have a particular ability for languages you shouldn’t have to waste your time, two hours a day, five days a week on Irish when the time could be used for other subjects,” he said.