Éire Ghaelach – Éire Shaor
In today’s Irish Times (following on from yesterday’s bizarre anti-Irish rant by Ann Marie Hourihane) Finbar McDonnell examines the Fine Gael-Labour coalition government’s attitudes to it’s Irish speaking citizens in these economically straitened times:
“THE VIBRANT Seachtain na Gaeilge festival runs nationally until March 17th, with tomorrow a Lá Gaeilge in the Dáil. At the same time, Irish language groups are campaigning against the effects of funding cuts on the language. So what is the state of the language and how might the current recession affect it?
Since independence, all governments have supported the language and, 90 years on, the evidence suggests these policies have had mixed results.
The main policy focus (perhaps to an unbalanced extent) has been the education system. [ASF: or to put it more honestly, the effective ghettoization of the Irish language in our school system!] In many ways, achievements here are disappointing compared to inputs.
On the other hand, the work of the schools has led to the number of people who say they can speak Irish rising from 20 per cent of the population in the 1920s to more than 40 per cent today.
The 2006 census showed that 1.66 million people have an ability to speak Irish, with more than half a million people using Irish every day. This included more than 72,000 people who spoke Irish daily outside the education system.
As such, there has been some movement towards a bilingual society, although Ireland is clearly no Canada or Belgium.
Opinion polls consistently show that strong public support for Irish (despite a minority who don’t seem to “get” the language) and the vibrant Gaelscoil movement, as well as growth in the use of Irish in Northern Ireland, represent strong sources of optimism. (Research suggests one in four parents would send their child to a Gaelscoil if available.) While many languages around the world died in the 20th century, Irish is very much alive.”
There is more, including the worrying decline of Irish in the traditional Irish-speaking heartlands of the Gaeltacht, though with the proviso of the very public increase of Irish speakers in major urban areas like Dublin, Cork, Galway, Belfast and Derry. However it is the government’s record on the Irish language that receives the most attention, including its long-term commitment to agreed strategies to encourage growth in the number of fluent speakers across the country:
“On the positive side, the recent Gaeltacht Bill suggests commitment to the strategy. As well as focusing on the urgent challenges facing Gaeltacht areas in keeping the language alive, an innovative part of the Bill will allow any area where large numbers of Irish language speakers live or work to become a “Gaeltacht network” (groups in both Clondalkin and Co Clare are already looking at this). New “Gaeltacht” areas, with a range of outlets for people to use Irish, could generate local pride and create virtuous circles of language visibility and use.
On the other hand, the national austerity is having detrimental effects and particularly negative decisions include:
The proposal to merge the Office of the Irish Language Commissioner with the Office of the Ombudsman, which will lead to almost no savings, but may well affect the rights of Irish speakers;
The cutting of grants to trainee teachers to spend time in the Gaeltacht. This is particularly illogical as trainee teachers need more and not less time in the Gaeltacht;
Reduced funding for small Gaeltacht schools.
The risk is that spending cuts from different Government departments could, taken together, undermine the “horizontal” Government objective of supporting the language. There is an urgent need for the Cabinet committee on the Irish language to take a “joined-up” view to ensure the 20-year strategy is given high-level leadership and oversight.”