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Language plans said to be the ‘most significant in 90 years’

November 22, 2010

Just 83,000 people speak Irish on a daily basis and the Government aims to increase that number to 250,000 through its 20-year language strategy, the Dáil has heard.

As calls were made for compulsory Irish to be dropped after Junior Certificate level, Minister for the Gaeltacht Pat Carey warned there is a danger that the Irish language will die unless action is taken. He described the strategy as one of the most significant steps taken on the Irish language in 90 years. Mr Carey said it was a great achievement that the language was still being spoken in Gaeltacht areas given the pressure from the level of English that is spoken. The Minister said it is the household that creates the native speaker but it is the community speaking the language that would keep it alive.

During a two-hour debate on the first official language, conducted mainly in Irish, Fine Gael Gaeltacht spokesman Frank Feighan believed that 4 per cent of Irish speakers, or roughly 72,000 people, use the language daily outside the classroom. He welcomed the strategy but said we should look at the retention of Irish as a compulsory subject from primary to Leaving Certificate level. Fergus O’Dowd (FG, Louth) was more adamant. We must get rid of our compulsory Irish after the Junior Certificate. We must offer people choice after the Junior Certificate rather than having it compulsory. Students love the subjects they want to do, not the ones they have to do.

Labour spokesman Brian O’Shea said there is a large measure of soft support for the Irish language among the public but we must convert this into something more active. He said the Gaeltacht areas could not be kept alive without employment in the area. He also believed the language should be simplified, particularly irregular verbs, a proposal sharply criticised by Sinn Féin spokesman Aengus Ó Snodaigh. He said: I don’t see anyone asking the French to change their irregular verbs. He also criticised the Oireachtas which refused to accept amendments to Bills in Irish and condemned the rare use of language in the chamber with usually only one debate annually on Irish, around St Patrick’s Day. Trevor Sargent (Green, Dublin North) said the language was on the edge of extinction and warned against the strategy’s changes in the role of Údarás na Gaeltachta.

The Irish Times – Marie O’Halloran
19 Samhain 2010