Coláiste Feirste and school transport

Date of publication: October 25, 2021

An Irish Medium language school successfully challenged a failure by the Department of Education to put in place adequate transport arrangements.


The PILS Project provided financial support to cover an indemnity against the legal costs of the public body if the case was not successful.


This case was taken forward by Colma McKee, Vice Chairperson of the Board of an Irish Language Medium School in Belfast. The Applicant claimed that the Department of Education had breached its statutory duty to encourage and facilitate education in the Irish language, under Article 89 of the Education (Northern Ireland) Order 1998 by failing to provide adequate transport to pupils in rural areas.

The failure to provide adequate transport meant it was extremely difficult for pupils and would-be pupils of Coláiste Feirste living outside Belfast who wished to undertake their education in the medium of the Irish language to do so.

The High Court found in favour of the applicant. The Court concluded that the imposition of the statutory duty to promote the Irish language was not ‘merely aspirational’ but rather ‘has and is intended to have practical consequences and legislative significance.’

It was further decided that the Department of Education ‘failed to give proper weight and consideration to its obligation under Art 89 to encourage and facilitate the development of Irish language Medium education.’ Therefore, the Court compelled the Department of Education to give further consideration to the transport issue in the post primary Irish medium education sector in light of the court’s ruling.


The judgment brought into focus the statutory obligations of the Northern Irish government towards the promotion of education in the Irish language. It also underscored the duty to provide transport as a fundamental requisite to the fulfilment of such a duty.  The case demonstrated that statutory duties are not abstract and require public bodies to take practical measures to ensure that these duties are fulfilled.

Following a lengthy review of school transport provision and a high level publicity campaign launched by parents and Irish language activists, the Department of Education allocated funding to ensure that adequate transport was in place to enable pupils to attend the school.