Ireland, 2 October 2006: Ireland’s schoolbooks publisher Folens publishers has said it plans to produce a “more correct” version of its widely-used school atlas from January 2007 which will omit all references to the “British Isles”. The world atlas has a section of 31 pages with maps and information, all of which show Ireland under the heading of the British Isles.
Following a recent complaint by a parent to the Minister for Education, Mary Hanafin, her private secretary issued a letter on her behalf recommending that the aggrieved parent raise the matter directly with the teacher who was using the atlas or the school’s Board of Management.
John O’Connor of Dublin-based Folens insisted he had received no complaints from parents regarding the new atlas. The issue had, however, been brought to his attention by a geography teacher. “I have a policy that if I see a potential problem I’ll act on it immediately instead of waiting to see if a problem arises. So from January 2007 the reference will be removed.”
“She also advises you to bring the matter to the attention of Folens, the publishing company concerned,” the letter states, adding that the Department does not have a role in vetting the content of publications, including textbooks, produced by commercial companies.
The introduction of the Folens atlas follows a recent entry on the online encyclopedia Wikipedia on the term “British Isles” which stated that the phrase could be “confusing and objectionable to some people, particularly in Ireland”. The term has in the past been used in a purely geographical sense, to make clear Ireland’s proximity to Britain.
However, Minister for Foreign Affairs Dermot Ahern has ruled that the term is not used by the Government and is without any official status. It was made clear by him that the term is not recognised in any legal or inter-governmental sense.
It has been suggested in education circles that the Folens atlas highlights the need to have a checking system whereby all textbooks are checked to ensure they conform with the curriculum as outlined by the National Council for Curriculum Assessment. The Irish Embassy in London has also been urged to monitor the media in Britain for “any abuse of the official terms as set out in the Constitution of Ireland and in legislation”.