Éire Ghaelach – Éire Shaor
The latest, much publicised release of data by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) from the 2011 Census of Ireland provides a very mixed picture of the situation for the Irish-speaking population of the country, especially in relation to other linguistic groups. Whereas Irish speakers have traditionally faced an overwhelming (and frequently hostile) English-speaking majority now they also have to contend with significant non-English linguistic minorities too. The headline chosen by RTÉ indicates exactly how this new information will be presented by the anglophone opponents of Irish in the future:
“Irish is third most used language in the country – 2011 Census
Nearly 82,600 people speak Irish every day outside of school according to the first definitive results of the 2011 Census, making it the third most used language in the country.”
A somewhat disingenuous claim when in fact 1,777,437 million people stated that they spoke Irish in the Census. In contrast only 119,526 stated that they spoke Polish (and that represents a maximum number). There is a difference of 1,657,911 million people between those two figures. Not that you would know it from our supposedly unbiased public service broadcaster or much of the rest of the anglophone news media.
Even if one drills down into the underlying figures it still doesn’t make Polish the third most spoken language in the state. 187,827 people are recorded as being daily/weekly Irish speakers. That is a difference with Polish speakers of 68,301. Yet that figure does not take into account the number of people who have indicated in the Census that they speak the language on a less than weekly basis – that’s an incredible 613,236 people. If even a quarter of that group had a moderate degree of fluency that represents another 153,309 people. Which makes a total of 341,136 Irish speakers. These figures represent the true status of the second most spoken language in Ireland after English.
But why spoil the Angloban propaganda with some inconvenient truth?
While the percentage of Irish speakers in Ireland as a whole has fallen to 41.4% due to the rising level of immigration by foreign nationals coupled with the emigration of Irish nationals in real terms it has actually risen by 7.1% (up from 1.66 million in 2006 to the present 1.77 million). A remarkable upward curve that has been observable since the 1990s.
A very marked trend is the percentage of women who speak Irish compared to the percentage of men, with 44.9% of women speaking our native language compared to a significantly smaller 37.9% of men. What is that old maxim? Mothers are the saviours of a language or culture? There could be some truth in that yet.
Breaking Down The Census
For 2011 some 1.8% (or 77,185) of those people resident in the state recorded themselves as speaking Irish on a daily basis (outside of the education system). However that is an unexpected rise of 5032. Another 2.6% (or 110,642) stated that they spoke the language weekly, a significant increase of 7781 speakers. Taken together that provides an aggregate percentage of 4.4% of the population of Ireland speaking Irish on a regular basis (187,827 people). To that figure must be added the 613,236 who claim that they speak Irish on a less than weekly rate, referred to above. However this particular number is contested by some from within the anglophone community (though it should be noted that the widespread expectation that this figure would be lower in 2011 than 2006 has been confounded by a surprise increase of 27,139). All that one can say is that if even a quarter of that number had a limited degree of fluency, taken with acknowledged fluent speakers, it would represent well over a quarter of a million full or partial Irish speakers in the state. These numbers, taken with the group who say they never speak Irish though having the ability to do so, makes up the 41.4% of the population as a whole that identified themselves as Irish speaking in the Ireland of 2011.
That of course means that 58.6% of the population claims no ability to speak Irish at all. That demographic is made up of monolingual English speakers and non-Irish speaking immigrant communities of Polish, Francophone-African, Lithuanian, Russian and other extraction (in total the Census recorded 544,357 non-nationals resident in the country in 2011 of which 89,561 stated that they had little or no ability to speak English let alone Irish).
With the addition of the 2011 census results it is now clear that the upward growth in Irish speakers observable since the late 1990s is no mere statistical blip but the result of ongoing language restoration and recovery. From the historic low of the mid to late 20th century the numbers have gradually stabilised and are now in a period of expansion. There can be little doubt that significant changes in the standing of the Irish language, principally through equality legislation like the Official Languages Act of 2003 and the role of the Language Commissioner, have played a definitive part in this. With the perception that Irish speakers are no longer second class citizens with second class rights, not least by speakers themselves, there is now seen to be a real value in remaining or becoming a fluent speaker of the national language. Those who do so are no longer regarded by themselves or others as being at a disadvantage, either socially, educationally, legally or economically.