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It’s still there, but barely alive

February 24, 2011

SOMETHING UNUSUAL happened this week

 Courtesy of the leaders’ debate on TG4 the Irish language was the centre of the national discourse. The three party leaders were eloquent in the national language, happy to discuss subordinated debt and the like as Gaeilge. But many viewers were, no doubt, grateful for the subtitles. For them, Irish is not a living language. In the 2006 census more than 1.6 million people said they “have” Irish but more than one million of these admitted they rarely, if ever, spoke it. About 72,000 people, fewer than 5 per cent of us, use the language daily outside education. But if Irish has a marginal presence outside schools, it has a leading, some would say dominant, role inside them.

In most primary schools children will spend more than three hours per week learning the subject, about 15 per cent of teaching time. By comparison, the teaching of science accounts for only 4 per cent of instruction time. Despite this investment few teachers believe we are making progress. One senior figure says:”“Kids have a genuine grá for the language in infant classes but most lose their love of the language by the end of second class. They want to speak the language, not focus on grammar and reading.” At second level an army of teachers provide Irish-language instruction for the Junior and Leaving Cert exams. Overall, An Coimisinéir Teanga, who functions as an ombudsman service in relation to State services through Irish, estimates that a student will receive almost 1,500 hours of tuition in the Irish language over 13 years of primary and secondary education.The most up-to-date figures (from 2004) indicate that Irish-language education was costing up to EUR500 million a year. Despite this, many young people cannot conduct a conversation in Irish.

Languages expert Dr Kevin Williams, of the Mater Dei Institute, says the official policy of ensuring that people are able to use the language has been a “manifest failure”. “As an enthusiastic Irish-speaker, both professionally and socially, I agree with making Irish as visible as English in the public space. This enthusiasm for speaking Irish is not widely shared and I have ceased to be surprised at the lack of knowledge of the language among many people,” he says. “I have come across young people who, after 11 or 12 years of being forced to learn the language, hardly know one single word of it. Young people have a right and entitlement to learn Irish, but the essence of rights and entitlements is the freedom not to exercise them. Therefore, after the Junior Certificate Irish should no longer be compulsory.”

Last year, at 82 per cent, the percentage of students taking the Leaving Cert Irish exam was at its lowest level since records began.Increasing numbers of students are seeking an exemption from Irish. While many of these are genuine cases (special needs, immigrants, and so on), others are simply trying to sidestep the exam. In 2008 there was controversy when it was revealed that many of those who secured an exemption from Irish were taking other foreign languages. One Irish teacher says: “For those of us who love the language there is this awful sense that the Irish language is on a life-support machine in schools – still there, but barely alive … I sense a growing resentment, particularly among middle-class parents, about their children being forced to learn Irish.”

Ireland is the only European country where study of a foreign language is not compulsory at any stage of education. Only 8 per cent of Irish secondary-school students learn two or more foreign languages, compared with the European average of 60 per cent. In pushing for the abolition of compulsory Irish in the Leaving Cert, Fine Gael has tapped into negative feelings about the language. Its policy has raised awkward questions about our true commitment to the language.

The Irish Times – Seán Flynn

Colm O’Rourke: Irish language message getting lost in translation

February 24, 2011

WHAT began as an attempt to refresh my memory as to who is playing this weekend in the Allianz League ended up with musings on Fine Gael’s proposals on the Irish language.

I was rumbling around the GAA diary, which contains all the fixtures, and I began to scan the names of the members of the GAA’s most important committee, An Coiste Bainistí, or Management Committee. I could not help thinking that these names might as well have been written in Chinese as in Irish as far as most people are concerned. I had to work hard myself to figure out who everybody was but I could imagine some people ringing them up if they wanted something (numbers are included) and the first question might be, who are you anyway? The name in Irish means absolutely nothing to many.

Fine Gael, it seems, say that Irish should not be compulsory at Leaving Cert level. The diary shows that there is a wrong attitude towards the language which the GAA continues to be a party to. Lists of players and secretaries in Irish and a few bellicose words from a captain don’t promote anything; all they are is an insult to the language which should be promoted through listening and speaking and not in this totally artificial way. In school, I see many weaker students struggle with Irish at Leaving Cert level and they would be better off doing Home Economics, IT skills or something which they would not become totally frustrated with.

The methods of teaching and examining have improved, with a sizeable proportion of marks for oral and aural tests, but the war was lost through stupidity in trying to ram poetry and literature down young people’s throats. Now is the time to build from the ground up with a more sensible, user-friendly approach. And even though I think our language and games are worth protecting, the sky won’t fall in if those who find it absolutely impossible drop Irish after the Junior Cert. It would make teaching much easier and develop a proper respect and love for something which is important in creating national identity.

From a GAA point of view, all lists should be in English or Irish which means no forced translations of both Christian and surnames, especially those which have no Irish in them whatsoever. The league is up and running and while losing a first-round game is never a major worry, nobody will want to be pointless this evening. Division 1 is a fairly cut-throat affair but it is the place to be as teams are measured by the best in every game.  That is where the All-Ireland winners come from most years and, apart from Tyrone, all the leading contenders are in the top bracket. Perhaps a case can be made for both Kildare and Meath in Division 2 but it would certainly be an advantage for both to have gained promotion over the last couple of years.

Most of the first-round games in the top flight were very competitive, the exception being the mauling that Monaghan gave Galway. It was a long way back from Clones to Eyre Square and there are early signs of disquiet emerging out west. Last week the cry of the sea was being heard, man overboard or even men overboard. It is not easy for Tomás ó Flatharta. I am not a fan of players jumping ship. The best thing is always to stay and fight. Football is full of hard knocks and hanging in when things may not be going well strengthens both mind and body. This is a test of what Galway are made of. Most expect them to be one of the sides for the trapdoor but nothing is inevitable.

The Cork-Kerry match was full of great endeavour and laced with wonderful skill. And there was a share of dodgy refereeing decisions too which had Conor Counihan lamenting in his quiet way the lack of consistency. The same sentiments are expressed every year that young men chase after a round ball. Cork have the wind at their backs now and if they can dig up a few more players, they could have a period of domination as the bulk of the team are at the right age. But Cork have had plenty of great players and great teams before and usually end up with less to show for it than the talents suggest. The next internal convulsion can hardly be too far away, after all, it has been several years of relative quiet by the banks.

Kerry can afford to lose about one more match before some of their supporters fear that they are facing into the blackest night; that usually ends up with them winning only three of the next five All-Irelands. So I would not worry about them yet, even if replacing some of their golden crew will take time. Judging by the performance of Eoin Brosnan with Dr Crokes, he still has a lot to contribute. In most counties, he would be an automatic choice. The other side who need to make hay in this division is Dublin. They now have a big panel of players, many of the hard-running, honest type and just need a quality midfielder, a half-back and one more scoring forward. Sounds easy but that search is going on in most counties. Many are chosen but few make it.

One of the features of the inter-county scene is the general blandness of teams. There are no real characters. Interviews appear all the same: “we knew coming up here today that we were going to have a hard battle”, or, “we have a lot of respect for this team” and so on. With Conor Mortimer in the recovery ward there will be no quotes from that quarter. Maybe James Horan would prefer it like that. Enda Kenny is going to get one part of the Mayo double up, now the easy part will be to win the All-Ireland.

Irish Independent – Colm O’Rourke

Hanafin: FG policy puts Gaeilge in danger

February 24, 2011

MINISTER Mary Hanafin has said the survival of the Irish language is in the balance if Fine Gael is given a mandate to implement its education policy.

She said the party’s plans to stop making Irish a mandatory Leaving Cert subject would repeat the mistakes made in Britain when students opted to turn their back on languages.
Ms Hanafin said it was a “live or die” situation for the country’s native tongue and she feared for its status if Enda Kenny’s policy was adopted.  “There is considerable evidence to suggest such a move would lead to the marginalisation and the eventual decline of the Irish language.

“If you look to see what happened when a similar measure was introduced to the teaching of modern languages in Britain, I think we see what the real outcome of this would be. The decision to make teaching of languages optional [in Britain] had a catastrophic impact on the number of students taking language.  “The consequences for Irish, competing with the highest status languages in the world, would be even more dramatic,” she said.  Ms Hanafin was speaking at FF headquarters where she spoke with fellow minister Pat Carey about its 20-year strategy for Irish.

She criticised the claim by Mr Kenny that the policy had been developed after talking to school children and she questioned if the same students asked for school to be abolished would the Fine Gael leader oblige. Ms Hanafin said it was important to improve the way Irish was taught but to retain its status in the exam system. And she said voters could not underestimate her contention that Mr Kenny wanted to “get rid of that one part of our cultural identity that ensures the Irish people are standing out”.  “We are people with a very distinct culture and the language is a very distinct part of it,” he said.

Ms Hanafin and Mr Carey denied the launch of the strategy and the organising of a press conference was motivated by a desire to expose a weakness in Fine Gael rather than a genuine concern for the teaching of the subject.  “It has always been at the central core of our manifestos,” Ms Hanafin said.

Irish Examiner  – Conor Ryan

Downgrading Irish ‘an act of cultural vandalism’

February 24, 2011

IRISH LANGUAGE : THE IRISH language is one of the few aspects of identity that makes sure Irish people are not branded as “East Americans or the West British”, Minister for Arts Mary Hanafin has contended.

Ms Hanafin accused Enda Kenny of an act of political opportunism in adopting a populist position on compulsory Irish in the Leaving Cert. “Downgrading the status of Irish would amount to an act of cultural vandalism,” she said. Ms Hanafin was speaking at a Fianna Fáil news conference on the Irish language, during which the Minister for the Gaeltacht, Pat Carey, also spoke.

Both Ministers said Fianna Fáil stood squarely behind the preservation of the Irish language. They said it fully supported a recently-published 20-year strategic plan which aims to bring the number of daily speakers from about 85,000 to about 250,000. Mr Carey said if the plan was not implemented Irish would not survive as a first language for more than another 15 years. He said if this happened it would be a disaster. “The Irish language is an important part of what we are. Some 80 per cent are in favour of its promotion.”

The Irish Times – Harry McGee

Caithfidh an Gaeilge a bheith éigeantach

February 24, 2011

Sorry, this entry is only available in Irish.

Plan for optional Irish in Leaving Cert

February 24, 2011

A chara, – Piaras Béaslaí, in the biography of his friend Michael Collins and the Making of a New Ireland,

Dublin 1926, wrote “That ideal, the ideal of Michael Collins, was, as his latest writings show as unequivocally as his earliest, a free, united, un-partitioned, Irish-speaking Ireland, proudly preserving its historic culture and its national integrity … in short, an Ireland as Irish as Denmark is Danish.” Should Fine Gael in government put paid to the status of Irish as a core Leaving Cert subject, I hope that it would have the decency to discontinue any reference to Collins in its party publicity. – Is mise,

An Leabharlann Dlí,
Na Ceithre Cúirteanna,
Baile Átha Cliath 7.

A chara, – David Carroll makes the entirely valid point that students should have an input into the debate on the teaching of Irish in secondary school (February 19th). As a fifth-year student, it is my firm opinion that our education system does not facilitate learning purely out of love for a subject. Students become so blinded by the tunnel vision of seeking results, objectives and future employment in the midst of a vicious points race that we are not granted the luxury of pursuing a subject for its own sake, however much we might like to.

Yet Irish isn’t merely a subject: it is a means of communication and a manner of thinking which constitutes an intrinsic part of our national identity, and it is paramount that we keep its high status to motivate students to study it. To adopt Fine Gael’s vision appears to me like the certain route to a dystopian future where the “English is enough” attitude will prevail. Why can’t they improve the teaching of language and at the same time keep it obligatory? We can import teachers of foreign languages if necessary, but we need to produce Irish teachers to a high standard here in Ireland, because nowhere else can. Those who vote for Irish becoming optional aren’t seeking the right to choose, but conversely, the right to reject, our first language. – Is mise,

Swords Road, Dublin 9.

Madam, – If Fine Gael makes the Irish language an optional subject at Leaving Certificate, will it also make it an optional entry requirement into teacher training colleges? I believe the current requirement for an honour in higher-level Irish is proving to be a barrier to many of our students entering the teaching profession.

How can we justify this requirement when a similar standard is not required, for instance, in mathematics? A significant number of our past pupils do very well in the Leaving Certificate and they gain enough points to go to third level.

Some are post-primary teachers, but we have strong anecdotal evidence that it is the Irish language requirement in Leaving Cert that is proving to be an impediment to some young people becoming primary teachers. We need positive role models from our school community, as teachers and would dearly love to see more of our past pupils coming back to teach in our school. I believe that the Irish language requirement should be an exit requirement from the training colleges and not an entry requirement. When young people decided that primary teaching is the profession they wish to pursue, three years of intensive tuition in Irish in college, added to their school-level Irish, should allow students to meet the necessary standard.

Teachers who are trained abroad are currently allowed a number of years to upskill in the Irish language. Why are we putting an impediment in the way of otherwise excellent candidates to the profession? In a similar vein, we recruited a new special needs assistant in our school in recent months and were astounded to discover that an Irish language requirement has also been mandated for this position. We have little or no role models in the teaching profession for the newcomer children in our schools. The position of SNA might have been an opportunity to introduce some diversity in the school staff if a suitable candidate had been successful at interview. Unfortunately the Irish language requirement made this an impossibility. Schools should have complete discretion in this matter and should be able to decide if a qualification in the Irish language for SNAs is necessary for their own particular context. – Yours, etc,

St Louise de Marillac Junior School,

Ballyfermot, Dublin 10.

The Irish Times – Litireacha chuig an Eagarthóir

Let’s debunk the myth of Irish as a living language, it now represents failure and a national disorder

February 24, 2011

Some phenomena exist solely as cultural tautologies, contradictions in terms whose intrinsic flaws are largely unobserved by their participants.

The Alcoholics Anonymous meeting that begins with champagne cocktails: the Noise Abate-ment Society AGM that opens with a Sex Pistols concert; the Islamic Suicide Bombers’ Christmas Bar-Mitzvah that begins with prayers to the Virgin Mary for a long and peaceful life. And not least of all, the recent TV debate in Irish, in which Labour and Fianna Fail ominously warned that people might not be able to understand Irish if Fine Gael’s voluntary language proposals became policy, but which had to be pre-recorded and subtitled in order for the audience to understand it. Welcome back to the Irish joke. Moreover, so poorly is Irish spoken generally that this was the first ever such debate in the history of the State. Yet the Fianna Fail and Labour leaders clearly subscribe to the public fiction that the Irish language is alive and well. It’s not. It’s green around the gills and it reeks. Only a widespread psychiatric disorder would maintain the myth of a living Irish language. This fantasy actually predates the foundation of the State. The 1911 census shows huge numbers of young people in Dublin with Anglophone parents reporting an ability to speak Irish, though all they probably had was a Christian Brothers doggerel-Gaelic.

Independence turned this delusion into a state dogma, which Fianna Fail then transformed into a Constitutional Declaration of National Piety. Many politicians still declare that compulsion in Irish is vital to keep the language “alive” — but usually do so in English, either because they wouldn’t be understood if they spoke in Irish, or because they can’t speak it themselves. The status of the Irish language as a lodestone of illogicality was amply revealed in a recent statement on the issue from Pádraig Mac Fhearghusa, of Conradh na Gaeilge. He said: “Recent research has shown that of the adult population, born in Ireland and of all levels of education, over 9pc are fluent or very fluent in Irish … Yet in the Department of Education, the proportion of staff who can provide a service through Irish is down now to 1.5pc.” In other words, fluency in Irish within the department is just one-fifth of what it is amongst the general population. Which indicates that either the department actually filters out Irish speakers during recruitment, or that it advertises vacancies only in Urdu and Mandarin publications, or that (perhaps most likely of all) 9pc of the population is not really fluent in Irish at all. In fact, the figure is probably less than the 1.5pc in the department, and considerably fewer than the numbers of authentic Urdu or Mandarin speakers here. The “restoration” of spoken Irish is the greatest single economic and cultural project in the history of the State. Not merely has it also been the greatest national failure, but it has also revealed a national disorder; the acceptance of a consensual falsehood across society, from the intimate disclosures of a census form to the public formulation of national policy.

Hence the 2006 census, in which 1.6 million people allege that they “have” Irish, which is a simple lie. A more realistic assertion is that 72,000 (in other words, a nearly-full Croke Park) speak Irish every day, but that’s still not true if it’s meant to imply that Irish is their primary language of communication. Irish is not even the main spoken language in the Gaeltacht any more. That Irish is now primarily a political and commercial artefact was revealed in the hysterical response to Fine Gael’s proposals. Concos, which co-ordinates Irish language summer schools, reacted as if the Fine Gael policy was to BAN Irish, and lamented the alleged EUR60m financial “losses” that would be incurred by the Gaeltacht generally and in particular the 672 Irish-speaking homes that take in students. (Untrue, of course: young people will still go to the Gaeltacht, if only to simultaneously lose their virginity and contract pneumonia). The Concos logic is apparently that every student in this Republic should spend 1,500 hours learning Irish, or 15pc of total teaching time, at a cost to the state of EUR500m a year, so that 672 boarding houses in the Gaeltacht are kept in business. There are simpler ways to run soup kitchens. But this is what happens when you politicise “culture”: language becomes the only commodity available in a false marketplace dominated by hysteria, self-delusion and coercion.

So Enda Kenny could have been far louder in proclaiming the virtues of abandoning the disastrous policy of compulsory Irish. There are votes to be got that way. Moreover, he should have given the Fine Gael position much more thought and preparation. Irish is constitutionally the official language of the Republic, so maybe it won’t even be lawful to remove it as a mandatory subject without a referendum. And by God, if you think there’s been some gross hypocrisy over the language thus far, just watch how dirty it gets when the Gaelgoiri and the “cultural republicans” of post-terrorist Sinn Fein face the prospect of losing their precious shibboleth.

Irish Independent – Kevin Myers

Fine Gael Irish policy ‘a death knell’ for Colaistí Samhraidh

February 24, 2011

Fine Gael’s policy towards the Irish language, which proposes that Irish would be optional as a Leaving Cert subject, would be the ‘death knell’ for the Colaistí Samhraidh industry in the Mayo Gaeltachtaí.

The party has come under increasing pressure from a number of Irish language bodies and opposition parties over its stance to make Irish an ‘optional’ subject after the Junior Cert. The party claim that by abolishing Irish as a compulsory subject in the Leaving Cert, it will help the language to flourish as it would attract passionate students.

However, in Gaeltacht areas there is a fear that its will have a negative impact on the local economy which relies on Irish Language Colleges in the summer. One principal of a Irish language summer college told The Mayo News that if they go ahead with the policy, it will be a ‘death knell’ for the Colaistí Samhraidh and the Gaeltacht. “It is a very populist thing to say they will get rid of Irish as a compulsory subject but if they go ahead with it, it will be the death knell of the Colaistí Samhraidh and the Irish language. Over a period of five years we will be left with no business because if there isn’t an incentive to learn Irish, students won’t come to the Gaeltacht.

“From listening to Radio na Gaeltachta there is uproar among the Mna na Tí especially in Conamara. It is very important to the Gaeltacht and the money that the Coláiste Samhraidh generate goes into the local community. There are over 100 people directly employed in the Colaistí Samhraidh around Mayo and if they closed a factory that employs 100 people there would be uproar. That is what we are talking about here,” he said. During the week students opposed to Fine Gael’s policy staged a ‘silent protest’ outside the Dáil claiming that if Irish is optional, students will not choose it as a subject because languages are harder subjects to study in the Leaving Cert and it would no longer be available in every school.

Sinn Féin candidate in the General Election, Cllr Thérèse Ruane (pictured)  said that Fine Gael’s proposals must be opposed at all costs. “We in Sinn Féin commit ourselves 100 per cent to its  promotion. Our proposals will further protect the Irish language. “One among many of those proposed is that there should be an Aire Gaeilge agus Gaeltachta in Cabinet with responsibility to deliver on the 20 year strategy and ensuring that the rights of Irish language speakers are upheld. Gaeltacht communities must be protected, supported and developed. “We also believe the right to education through Irish should be constitutionally and legally enshrined as one of the primary steps in protecting its existence for generations to come,” she said.

Conradh na Gaeilge in Mayo sent a petition signed by more than 160 people from all over Mayo to Fine Gael leader, Enda Kenny calling on him to reconsider his policy towards the Irish language. A spokesperson for Conradh na Gaeilge in the county said that there was no evidence or research whatsoever to say that the Fine Gael policy would succeed in promoting the language.

The Mayo News – Anton McNulty

FG plan for Leaving Cert Irish a disgrace

February 24, 2011

I WAS appalled to learn about Fine Gael’s plan to possibly abolish compulsory Irish from the Leaving Certificate curriculum.

I will be sitting my Leaving Certificate examinations next year and believe that Irish is one of the most important subjects I am studying. As a small nation in the European melting pot of nations, the Irish language allows us to retain a unique identity. Enda Kenny, in his desperate bid for Taoiseach (after many years of trying and failing) is obviously now quite happy to take any measures necessary to gain the position he has sought after for so long.

For this misguided party, it’s not about the way you play the game but the end result. Their complete disregard for all the good work and endeavour that has gone into redeeming our national language, from the position it was in after 800 years of British rule, to the position it currently has, is absolutely astounding. It is a disgrace that after all the effort gone into promoting the language and keeping it alive that Mr Kenny is willing to throw it all away.

The abolition of compulsory Irish at Leaving Certificate level will most certainly result in an extreme decrease in the knowledge of the subject and the language as a whole. Perhaps Mr Kenny should seek the opinions of the students themselves before making such a drastic decision.

Eimear Walsh
Co Cork

Irish Examiner – Litir chuig an Eagarthóir

Plan for optional leaving Cert Irish

February 24, 2011

Madam, – Seán Flynn’s article on the Irish language (February 19th) mentions that the State spends about EUR500 million a year on (second-level) Irish language education.

According to a recent statement by Prof Ed Walsh, the total spend on promoting Irish is closer to EUR1.2 billion a year, however. Yet as Dr Kevin Williams says, the result of this spend is the ability of people to use Irish is “a manifest failure”. Fine Gael’s policy is surely based on the reality that after almost 90 years of force-feeding Irish to our children, at high cost to the taxpayer, the result is “a manifest failure”. It is questionable whether new life can be breathed into it through continued compulsion, as Micheál Martin proposes.

Fewer than 20,000 people are native speakers today and that number is decreasing. Choice, not force, may prove to be a more sensible approach, as well as spending some of the EUR1.2 billion on teaching another language, such as Chinese, as suggested recently by Prof Walsh. – Yours, etc,

Military Road,
Killiney, Co Dublin.

Madam, – All of the comment on the above issue misses the the point. If we are to get jobs back into our country we must start to prioritise and learn a European language or Mandarin at an early age in order to attract companies to our so-called well-educated workforce. Are we seriously to believe that a graduate of any discipline with fluent Spanish or Mandarin cannot get a job? Would we not prefer a taoiseach who could speak one of these useful languages over one who has fluent Irish? Without focusing on these languages we may all be fluent Irish speakers, but will be for the most part unemployed ones. – Yours, etc,

Kiltoom, Co Roscommon.

Madam, – As a secondary school student, I believe it is an outrage that Fine Gael plan to remove Irish as a core subject. I feel Irish is an important subject, for it is part of our culture and heritage. The Irish language is one of the things that makes Ireland unique. Many of my family members outside Ireland are jealous that I get the chance to study Irish in school. Considering this and Fine Gael’s desire to make Irish non-compulsory, I think that we in Ireland are ungrateful for the chance to speak and learn our native tongue. – Yours, etc,

Dale Drive,
Stillorgan, Co Dublin.

The Irish Times – Litreacha chuig an Eagarthóir

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