Donncha Ó hÉallaithe, Irish language and community researcher and writer, examines the new Gaeltacht Bill 2012 in the Irish Times presenting an alternative view of the controversial legislation:
“THE GAELTACHT Bill 2012 before the Oireachtas is the culmination of 12 years of costly research, extensive consultation and prolonged procrastination by officialdom in dealing with the problem of Gaeltacht boundaries.
Part of the problem is that the official boundaries, set up by government order in 1956, with a few additions since, do not reflect the current linguistic situation. More than half the population of the Gaeltacht is living in areas in which Irish is no longer used within the community to any significant extent.
The Comprehensive Linguistic Study of the Use of Irish in the Gaeltacht (2007) established criteria for three categories of Gaeltacht: Category A for areas in which Irish was the “predominant community and family language”, Category B for weaker areas in transition, and Category C for areas in which Irish, while not the main community language, would be used by some social networks, by a minority of families and within education.
Analysis of data from Census 2006 shows that of the 95,000 people living within the official Gaeltacht, approximately 17,000 belonged to Category A areas, 10,000 to Category B and 17,000 to Category C, leaving about 50,000 in Gaeltacht areas which did not meet the minimum criteria.
The Gaeltacht Bill before the Oireachtas was heralded as providing for “a new definition based on language criteria” for the Gaeltacht, to quote Minister of State Dinny McGinley. It does the opposite.
Section 7 of the Bill states unambiguously that all areas “currently within the Gaeltacht” shall maintain their current Gaeltacht status, irrespective of whether Irish is actually used. This status can only be revoked if the area fails to prepare a language plan.
Under the new Bill, the Gaeltacht status of these areas can only be withdrawn if it should happen that no organisation within them manages to formulate an approved language plan. The corollary of this is that every official Gaeltacht area will keep its Gaeltacht status, irrespective of whether or not Irish is actually used in the area, as long the necessary paper exercise is completed and the requisite box can be ticked in the department.
More realistic boundaries for the Gaeltacht would save money for the Government. More importantly, they would allow the language planning process being promoted in this Bill to concentrate efforts and resources on those few areas in which Irish has managed to survive as a community language for the last 2,000 years, and allow the promotion of Irish language networks in urban areas outside the traditional Gaeltacht.
Is it too late to ask the Government to withdraw this faulty legislation and to redraft a more honest and courageous Gaeltacht Bill in the autumn? After 12 years of waiting, we can afford another few months of delay in order to get it right. The survival of our living language heritage is at stake”