The FG-Lab coalition government has finally produced its long expected Gaeltacht Bill 2012, the most controversial piece of legislation to be published in relation to the Gaeltachtaí or Irish-speaking regions of the country in over fifty years. The Irish Times carries a report:
“The Gaeltacht Bill (2012) redesignates current Gaeltachtaí in seven counties as 19 new “Gaeltacht language planning areas” that must draw up and implement a language plan if they are to keep their status as strongholds of native Irish speakers.
Minister of State for Gaeltacht Affairs Dinny McGinley said… it was “time for action” and that the Government was looking to Gaeltacht communities to draw up their own strategies for the future; it was up to them to take possession of their plans. The Government was not throwing anyone out of the Gaeltacht; they would offer any assistance they could but there would be “implications if they were not willing to be constructive”.
It was “essential that the Gaeltacht is based on linguistics” and not on a geographical area. He wanted any Gaeltacht region to be a “true reflection of what was there”.
The Bill also introduces new concepts in an attempt to promote language usage in the Gaeltacht and outside it. Certain towns can be designated “Gaeltacht service towns” that could provide support for Gaeltacht areas, and urban districts can become “Irish language networks”, areas outside the Gaeltacht where the language is widely used among the community.
The head of Gael Linn, Antoine Ó Coileáin, said the Bill was “a most significant piece of legislation”. Gael Linn is an organisation that runs courses for children and adults in the Gaeltacht and outside it.
“While successive governments have espoused the concept of promoting Irish, we have never had a . . . rigorous planning model to bring this about,” he said. “The absence of linguistic criteria allowed for plenty of wriggle room as to the actual position of the language. Thankfully, the new Bill recognises the current precarious position of the Gaeltacht and proposes that language planning criteria will in future determine what constitutes a Gaeltacht.”
The Bill also ends elections to the board of the development agency Údarás na Gaeltachta. Instead of 20 board members, there will now be 12 – five of whom will be nominated by local authorities with Gaeltachtaí in their jurisdiction and seven of whom will be appointed by the Government.
Former Fianna Fáil minister Éamon Ó Cuív said the Bill marked the end of a “democratic” Údarás na Gaeltachta.”
You can read the bilingual Gaeltacht Bill 2012 here, in PDF format. More analysis later, though Éamon Ó Cuív has expressed his disappointment and some figures in the Irish language community are advising caution.