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President questions commitment to Irish language

June 27, 2016

President Michael D Higgins has questioned the commitment to the Irish language in the Government, Civil Service and public sector circles.

The President, addressing language groups and activists in Áras an Uachtaráin, said “serious questions” needed to be asked over the “lack of goodwill” towards Irish despite the introduction of legislative instruments such as the Official Languages Act 2003, designed to provide legal protection and support for the language.

In a wide-ranging speech, Mr Higgins said he was concerned at the lack of visibility of Irish in usage at the highest levels of the public service and that it was a shortcoming that had been a matter of concern to him for many years.

“Irish is rarely heard in Government departments at the highest level, in local authorities or in State bodies,” he said.
Mr Higgins added this was due to some cultural issue that “prevents them from showing the leadership what we expect of them [in regard to the language].”

Mr Higgins also said he had raised the issue of the availability of Irish-medium schooling with Taoiseach Enda Kenny.
Raised obstacles

The President said he had spoken of the obstacles faced by parents hoping to educate their children through Irish with the Taoiseach when they met for talks recently.

“We all understand the benefits of multilingualism and we have seen a huge increase in the number of parents seeking the gift of bilingualism for their children,” Mr Higgins said. “It is clear that the demand exists for more Irish language secondary schools to give these children the opportunity to continue their education through the medium of Irish, and it is only right that they should be able to do so.”

The President said he was aware of campaigns to establish Irish-medium schools across the country, and mentioned those in Portlaoise, Ballincollig, Co Cork, Dublin 15, north Kildare, Connemara, Sligo and on the northside of Cork city.

“I understand that those who are making every effort to establish schools to cater for this demand are still facing obstacles,” he told the gathered audience.

“I raised this during talks with the Taoiseach recently, and I inquired if there might be ways to remove these obstacles from those communities trying to provide Irish-medium secondary schooling.

“While I do not have a role in the area of education policy, it would be a failure of note if the State could not provide education to children in the first language.”

Mr Higgins said Ireland had a lot to learn from other countries about the provision of State services in a minority language and added that he intended to focus his attention on the challenges faced by the Irish language for the rest of this year.