New criteria for granting exemptions from the study of Irish

The Minister for Education and Skills Joe McHugh T.D. has today (Monday August 12) announced new criteria for schools to grant students an exemption from studying Irish.

Following an extensive public consultation earlier this year on draft revisions to the system, revised circulars for primary and post-primary schools will take effect for the 2019/2020 school year.

The revised circulars will be issued in September and will replace existing rules on exemptions which date back more than 25 years.

Minister McHugh said: “An overhaul of the system for granting exemptions from the study of Irish is long overdue. By making key changes the system will be fairer and more supportive of students while at the same time ensuring that all children have equal access to study the Irish language.”

The public consultation on the issue of exemptions, which ran from December 7th 2018 until January 18th 2019, saw an unprecedented response with 11,109 individuals sharing their views.

Minister McHugh said: “There was a phenomenal level of interest in the public consultation. That is why I took the decision to extend it further into the New Year. The majority of people who engaged with it supported the changes being proposed. I believe the new criteria are fair and balanced and that the new system of exemptions is more up to date with teaching practices and support models and helps to remove ambiguity around exemptions.”

Key changes in the revised circulars include:


  • The new criteria will only apply in English-medium schools.


  • Students in special schools or special classes attached to mainstream schools will not be required to apply for an exemption.


  • Psychological assessments will no longer be necessary to process an application for an exemption.


  • Students will be granted an exemption from the study of Irish only in rare and exceptional circumstances.


  • Age-related criteria for decisions on exemptions are being changed from 11 years of age to 12, which brings the circular into line with the final year of primary education.


  • The decision to grant an exemption will continue to be made by the school principal.


  • The decision should only be taken following detailed discussion with the student’s parent or guardian, teacher, special education teachers and the student.


Minister McHugh said: “The decision to grant an exemption from the study of Irish should not be taken lightly. It is an important decision that will have implications for the student’s future learning. The benefits of bilingualism and studying a language from a young age are becoming better understood with studies showing it helps mental agility, makes it easier to learn a third or more languages and that it can help support a child’s academic achievement in other subjects like Mathematics.

“I would like to thank all of those who responded to the public consultation process which helped greatly to inform the finalisation of the circulars.”

The new circulars together with detailed guidelines will be issued to schools in the coming weeks and will be available on the Department’s website at the start of the new school year.

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