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‘Irish language policy risks being seen as a sham’

January 27, 2014

Only six of the 16 officers responsible for the use of Irish in Government departments can speak the language themselves, the outgoing Irish language commissioner has said.

Seán Ó Cuirreáin pointed the fact out to TDs and senators who he addressed about his decision last month to resign from the job in February. He said he is stepping aside two years ahead of schedule because he can do no more for the language rights of Irish speakers and Gaeltacht communities. After 10 years in the role, he said Government policy on Irish is in danger of being seen as a sham with inadequate access to public services and departments self-auditing compliance with legal requirements. The job was advertised publicly last week, but Mr Ó Cuirreáin told the Oireachtas sub-committee on the 20-Year Strategy for the Irish Language the same problems will exist for his successor.

He said the amalgamation of the work of his office later this year into the Ombudsman’s office was never discussed with him before being announced two years ago. Mr Ó Cuirreáin said there is no possibility of success for a new system to increase the number of civil servants fluent in Irish; and the system to develop language plans or language schemes in State bodies is in a sorry state because of ineffective implementation. He said it is more than two years since a review of the Official Languages Act began, but first steps to amend it have not yet been taken by publishing heads of a bill, now due before the summer.

“If the State can not provide assurances, when the legislation is being amended, that it will ensure that it can communicate in Irish with Gaeltacht communities without terms and conditions, and that it will have adequate staff in public administration with proficiency in Irish, then I believe that its policy will be viewed as a sham,” he said. He said the 16 officers nominated by Government departments to implement the act and liaise with his office were all very talented and diligently carry out their responsibilities. But only six out of the 16 officers in question have Irish themselves, he said. Sinn Féin senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh said this was scandalous when there are people in the public service with Irish who would be happy to use it in their day-to-day work but do not get the chance.

Mr Ó Cuirreáin said it was no good if a department returns a call with someone who can speak Irish but has no knowledge of the subject the caller wanted to discuss. Sub-committee vice- chair, Fianna Fáil’s senator Labhrás Ó Murchú, said minister of state Dinny McGinley will be given a chance to respond when he appears before it soon. Sinn Féin TD Peadar Tóibín said they should also bring in secretaries general of each department and Education Minister Ruairi Quinn. The commissioner said two cases investigated by his office caused concern about the Department of Education’s attitude. In one, the department had directed a Gaeltacht primary school to appoint a teacher from a panel of teachers up for redeployment who said they did not have enough Irish to teach there. In another case, he said the department refused to provide the option to study subjects through Irish up to Leaving Certificate at a school in the Donegal Gaeltacht. Mr Tóibín said it was disrespectful to the commissioner and to people in the Gaeltacht that there was no Government TD at the hearing. The absent coalition members were committee chair Michael McCarthy and Kevin Humphries (both Labour TDs), and Fine Gael senator Hildegarde Naughton.


Irish ‘blocked’ in the North

January 17, 2014

Growth and promotion of the Irish language in Northern Ireland is being blocked by hostile attitudes in Stormont and a lack of support for its use in the courts and in education.

The Council of Europe have warned authorities they may also be in breach of a charter of rights because of delays and attempts to block requests for bilingual street names.

The review of minority languages in the UK said the Government has not been able to justify banning the use of Irish in the courts.


The surprising people speaking up for Irish

January 6, 2014

THE resignation of the Irish-language commissioner, Seán Ó Cuirreáin, is “undoubtedly the worst blow to the Irish language in many years,” say Irish-language group, Conradh na Gaeilge.

Ó Cuirreáin, appointed as the first commissioner in 2004, and re-appointed in 2010, says many civil servants and public body employees are only capable of conducting business through English. Ó Cuirreáin accused the Government of hypocrisy, and said Irish speakers in Gaeltachts were being neglected. But the Irish language is being embraced by new speakers, and this is welcomed by Foras na Gaeilge, which is responsible for the promotion of the Irish language. Dr John Walsh, a lecturer in Irish at NUI Galway, says Irish is attracting unlikely practitioners. Walsh is involved in an EU-funded project, ‘New Speakers in a Multilingual Europe’, led by Heriot-Watt University in Scotland. It involves 15 partners from Europe. Other languages include Basque, Catalan, Galician and Scottish Gaelic.

Walsh defines a ‘new speaker’ as someone who has learned Irish outside of the home; either at school, through adult classes or some other formal means. “Our project is about finding out what has encouraged these people to make thedecision to learn Irish, what their views on Irish are, what their experiences ofspeaking it are, and how they relate to native speakers,” Dr Walsh says. A few non-Irish nationals have been interviewed for the project, which is in its early stages. “The non-Irish nationals are a very interesting group, because they don’t come to the language with the baggage that a lot of Irish people bring to it. “They may be motivated through heritage connections to Ireland, or they’re simply people who are interested in integrating more fully with Irish culture. Some may be interested in moving to the Gaeltacht,” he says.

Dr Walsh says that he knows of a student from the Czech Republic who is learning Irish, and he’s aware of a number of West of Ireland-based Africans learning the language. “I know that there’s a certain amount of non-Irish nationals going to Gaelscoileanna. They’re very often people who are linguistically open, because many of them would speak three different languages already. I had students in the past who worked in a school in west Dublin, where a lot of the non-Irish nationals were very well-disposed towards the language. Their parents wanted to learn it as well,” Dr Walsh says. Some enjoy learning another language. “Irish can be an interesting challenge for them. It’s not a burden for them,” he says. However, some of the new speakers “experience hostility from Irish people. Some people don’t like the fact that a French or Spanish person would know more Irish than them. But, in general, they’ve viewed with admiration.”

Walsh says that few non-Irish people studying Irish at NUI Galway are complete beginners. They come to the university having previously attended an introductory course. “Irish is taught in a lot of universities outside of Ireland. You can study Irish in Poland, and there are dozens of universities in North America where Irish is taught. “People from these backgrounds can reach quite impressive standards of Irish. The question of difficulty in learning the language comes from some Irish people who have their own attitudes towards the language,” Dr Walsh says. “Through preliminary work that we have done on the new speakers, we’ve found that they’re very committed, and will overcome the intricacies of another language and get to grips with it.

“It shows the importance of attitude. None of the new speakers talk about the fact that they’re struggling. They’re speaking Irish quite happily and want to get better. They often talk about it as if they’re on a journey and haven’t quite got there yet. “But any objective analysis would say that they’re very good already.” Some Irish are learning the language to move away from nationalism. They’re not speaking it for patriotism. “I think a certain generation associates nationalism and patriotism with political violence in the North. But, for a lot of young people, it’s all about being tolerant and open. They tend to be very accepting people, with liberal views towards the world. “They’re accepting of all sorts of diversity. The older generation that we’ve spoken to are much more nationalist. “They might have been at school in the 1940s and 1950s, when Irish was much more strongly associated with nationalism,” he says. With the new speakers of Irish come changes in the language. “We’ve definitely experienced all sorts of linguistic innovation across the spectrum. Nobody is replicating the traditional model. Researching language revival is part of this project.

“Irish is being brought into the future. Some people can be quite daring, almost transgressive, deliberately breaking rules and almost revelling in it. Other people are more conservative, as they try to stick to the style of the Gaeltacht areas,” Dr Walsh says. While purists may not like to see Irish changing, Walsh says that “one of the cardinal rules is that language changes.”


Irish language efforts hard to sustain

December 18, 2013

Re Barry Walsh’s recent letter about the Irish language: many voluntary groups are working tirelessly to keep the cúpla focal bouyant, in a slowly ‘sinking’ ship, but are aware of how little funding is available ó Rialtas na hÉireann when they try to get a worthwhile project off the ground.

I refer to those of us grassroot promoters, and indeed Conradh na Gaeilge teams, who are also handicapped in affording us any form of reasonable funding. I think that our Gaeilge at home has lost ground as our native tongue since it be-came a recognised EU language.
Who could contradict me when we cannot provide finance to produce a 10-page weekly nuachtán, Foinse, for countrywide distribution to help us with material for our Ciorcal Chómhrá, or to read nuacht na seachtaine as Gaeilge?
I try ,without success to get nuachtan Gaeilge na Mumhan circulating, but alas it’s too costly. I am appalled at the revelation that such a vast amount of European taxpayers’ money is being spent on celebrating Gaeilge as an official EU language, while we see Ireland’s Gaeilge funding so diminished and almost as láthair.
Eilis Uí Bhriain
Caisleán Uí Liatháin
Co Chorcaí


Will unofficial policy silence Irish forever?

December 17, 2013

The resignation of An Coimisinéir Teanga, Seán Ó Cuirreáin, adds to the growing suspicion that there is now an undeclared policy in operation to do away with what’s left of Irish in the public life of our country.
As someone who spent 30 years in the civil service,I know the deep dislike of Irish that is common among top civil servants. The days of Leon Ó Broin, TK Whitaker and Noel Dorr are long-passed. Our top officials will not openly express their dislike of Irish. Their tactic is to demean the language by ignoring it and marginalising those few who promote it. There was unanimous cross-party support for the Official Languages Act when it was going through the Dáil — proof that the legislation was positive sentiment about the Irish language and wouldn’t mean much in practice. Despite its limited scope, the Act conferred rights in legislative form for the first time. It provided cover for Irish speakers in pursuing their linguistic rights. But in the eyes of the mandarins, this was exactly what made it ‘a crank’s charter’ — to use a phrase popular in their circles at the time.

Without the active support of top management, the new legislation was doomedfrom the start. But what started as passive inaction in relation to it now seems to have moved up a notch or two to one of active undermining. It reminds me of a phrase used by President Michael D Higgins, when he was speaking at the biennial Tóstal na Gaeilge conference in Galway in 2010. He referred to those “for whom Irish was not half-dead enough.” Mr Ó Cuirreáin was appointed to his office by the President and will now be tendering his resignation to him in what are frustrating circumstances. As the courageous defender of minority rights that President Higgins has always been, and as the guardian of our constitution, I expect Uachtarán na hÉireann will have something to say about what appears to be the current, if undeclared, policy to undermine the standing of Irish in the public life of our country.

John Glennon
Co Wicklow


Irish language law was ‘doomed from start’

December 17, 2013

John Glennon (Letters, Dec 16) referring to the Official Languages Act claims “Without the active support of top management, the new legislation was doomed from the start.”

The gap between aspiration and reality has never been greater in relation to the Irish language. While criticising Official Ireland, his own letter is written in English. We have a Constitutional declaration made in 1937: “The Irish language as the national language is the first official language.” 76 years later our Dáil and Seanad have translators in permanent attendance in parliament and committees in case our first official language is used. The cost of this service should be levied on the salary of each TD and senator. Or they could sign a declaration that they are proficient to conduct business “as Gaeilge” and we can reassign the translators.

The “people are sovereign” is a phrase often invoked to imply that we all share power and responsibility, so maybe it is time to recognise, with regard to Irish sadly or otherwise, the people have spoken and continue to speak through English. Apart from school, Irish had no relevance in my working or social life or my family. Still, we tick the box on the Census form.
T Murphy
Co Cork


Gaelcholáiste to offer more first-year places

December 16, 2013

A Cork city centre gaelcholáiste is offering more first-year places next autumn, which could ease difficulties for some families disappointed by a one-third cut in intake at a northside all-Irish college.

The move by Coláiste Daibhéid, a Cork Education and Training Board (CETB) school, will see first-year enrolments rise from 40 to 58 for the coming year after the board decided to consider late applications, which will be accepted up to at least the end of January. It follows anger among families of children at northside gaelscoileanna and other primary schools at enrolment changes at Gaelcholáiste Mhuire AG at the North Monastery. It will enrol just two first-year classes with 58 students next September, having accepted three classes with more than 80 students in recent years.

The school, owned by Edmund Rice Schools Trust, said student numbers are up almost 100 to 445 since 2010 and there were overcrowding concerns. But a decision has yet be made on whether to seek funding for extra permanent accommodation to cater for the continued high demand. Coláiste Daibhéid principal Tadhg Ó Laighin said his school’s move to modern, fully-equipped classrooms at the CETB campus on Sawmill St in the last year enabled the board of management to take the decision last week. The school has more than 220 boys and girls enrolled and students come from gaelscoileanna across the city and county.

“We are unusual in many ways as our catchment area is not defined by a physical boundary but by a language boundary, that is to say our potential students are any students who have Irish or who have the potential to operate through the medium of Irish,” Mr Ó Laighin said. With some local schools, particularly all-Irish primary schools, highly disappointed that their pupils are among around 50 turned down by Gaelcholáiste Mhuire for 2014, plans are being devised for a new gaelcholáiste in the area. But the Department of Education has told the Irish Examiner that it has no plans to provide any new second-level schools on the city’s northside. It can only sanction new schools after determining there is sufficient population growth and then after prospective patrons have had a chance to show demand for their type of school in an area.


Tireless worker for the Irish language

December 11, 2013

I was disappointed to hear that Seán Ó Curreáin, Language Commissioner, is to resign. Séan worked tirelessly for the Irish language and Gaeltacht communities for the past eight years in his role.
He has told us that little headway was made regarding the Irish language in our state institutions in 2012 — legislated language plans were left languishing and more plans were out of date for more than three years. This is along with the other setbacks that the language has received ie the reduced status of COGG, the Council for Education, in Irish language medium schools. We are well aware of the Gaeltacht community’s language rights under the Official Languages Act. These rights are being denied inside our offices of state. State employees must be happy to serve us in Irish and it must be certified that public administration systems have enough staff with a working knowledge of Irish. The exemplary work by Ó Cuirreáin must be continued to ensure that we have a strong Gaeltacht community in the years to come.
Máire Uí Shíthigh
Baile an Fheirtéaraigh
Trá Lí
Co Chiarraí


Irish language policy is deluded

December 10, 2013

With all due respect to Julian de Spáinn of Conradh na Gaeilge, his recent letter (Dec 6) is a good illustration of the scale of the delusion that exists in the Irish language lobby about how best to preserve the national language.
Mr de Spáinn says that the status of Irish as an official EU language makes Irish “our bridge to Europe”. In reality, however, the only concrete effect of this status is that reams of obscure official documents are required to be translated into Irish costing European taxpayers a staggering €800m annually. Given that, according to the most recent census, just 1.8% of the population use Irish as part of their daily lives, it is clear that only a tiny number of people in Ireland (let alone in Europe) benefit from this enormous expenditure. So what exactly does this “official status” achieve in terms of preserving the language, when the only people who derive any benefit from it are the tiny number of people who already speak Irish?

So here’s a radical idea. How about we seek to revoke the status of Irish as an official language, and request that this €800m be redirected from translating endless documents and reports, to the direct teaching of Irish to schoolchildren. This would effectively double the amount being spent on the teaching of Irish, and could literally bring about a revolution in how we teach the language. For example, with such vast money at our disposal we could send every child in the country with an interest in the language to the Gaeltacht for a couple of weeks a year. Surely that would do more for the language than the translation of dust-gathering EU reports?

Mr de Spáinn goes on to mention the 180 jobs as translators and says, quite outrageously, that “there is no other way to dramatically increase the number or Irish people working with the EU”. This is an extraordinarily blinkered point of view. In Germany alone, there is a massive shortage of skilled engineers, with an estimated 70,000 vacancies in this sector which cannot be filled. So how about instead of spending €800m to create 180 jobs translating documents into Irish, we spend this money on teaching some of the thousands of skilled construction workers who lost their jobs in the crash to speak German, and take up these well-paid jobs just a two-hour flight away? Irish language groups tend to froth at the mouth at the thought of continental languages being taught to Irish people, but this is hardly surprising given that they seem not to want any Irish people to learn Irish either.

The status of Irish as an official EU language does nothing to preserve the language. All it does is effectively put Irish on a pedestal in a museum, like some kind of stuffed dodo, to be admired by a tiny number of people at a cost of €800m per annum. Only a truly radical shift in our attitudes will prevent our language from going the way of the dodo.

Barry Walsh
Dublin 3



School undecided on future intake

November 21, 2013

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