Ciníochas (Racism)

Five Thousand March For Irish Rights In Belfast

Dearg Le Fearg

Dearg Le Fearg

Last Saturday up to five thousand people took part in An Lá Dearg i mBéal Feirste, a march through the city of Belfast in support of Irish language rights in the north-east of Ireland. Despite the disruptive presence of a small crowd of protesters from the British Unionist community (who waved British flags while making Nazi salutes, oblivious to the history of the nation they were supposedly expressing loyalty to) the demonstrators generally received a warm welcome. Following on from the ten thousand who attended a similar rally in Dublin, and with numbers again far exceeding the organisers expectations, it shows the level of demand for full equality between Irish-speaking and English-speaking citizens in Ireland, north and south. All political parties on this island nation need to acknowledge the failures of the past in relation to their language policies, policies that have fostered a system of institutionalised discrimination within the public services and government as a whole. Following on from nine centuries of violent ethnocide the nine decades of mealy-mouthed hypocrisy have simply added more damage to the cultural and social standing of Hibernophones in Ireland and encouraged a virulent form of Anglophone supremacism. As more than one observer has pointed out this expression of hatred towards all things indigenous in Ireland is simply a continuation of the anti-Irish racism that existed during the era of British colonial rule, a poisonous legacy of that disastrous period in our nation’s history that all right-minded people should oppose.

New times require new thinking. None of the political parties in Ireland have any substantive policies in relation to Irish language rights or the restoration of the Irish language as the spoken vernacular of our island nation. Even Sinn Féin, the most progressive organisation in this area, is still a long way behind international contemporaries like Plaid Cymru in Wales or the Parti Québecois in Québec. Indeed it is countries like Québec, Catalonia, the Flemish and Walloon regions of Belgium, and many others that provide the templates that Ireland needs to follow. We could start with the Constitution of Ireland and the anomaly of Article 8.3 which permits the government to effectively dodge the constitutional primacy of the Irish language as the national and first official language of the state in favour of the English language. Article 8 presently reads as follows:

“8.1 The Irish language as the national language is the first official language.

8.2 The English language is recognised as a second official language.

8.3 Provision may, however, be made by law for the exclusive use of either of the said languages for any one or more official purposes, either throughout the State or in any part thereof.”

Clause 8.3 above is the reason we have the Official Languages Act of 2003 (a legal mechanism to curtail the primacy of Irish language rights) and why the Supreme Court could rule that Irish-speaking citizens are not entitled to a trial entirely through the medium of the Irish language (in contrast to English-speaking citizens who do have such a right). We need a constitutional amendment along the following lines:

“8.1 The Irish language as the national language is the first official language.

8.2 The English language is recognised as a second official language.

8.3 Exclusive use shall be made of the national language for all official purposes throughout the State. However, where necessary and excluding recognised Irish-speaking communities, simultaneous use may be made of both official languages for any official purposes by the State though the primacy of the national language and the State’s requirement to facilitate its exclusive use must be demonstrated at all times.”

I’m sure others could arrive at better formulae than the above but it gives one an idea of what is needed if the first steps are to be taken in building true equality, equality that no government can ignore or downplay.

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An Lá Dearg I mBéal Feirste

An Lá Dearg i mBéal Feirste, the Red Day in support of Irish language rights, gathering at 2pm outside Cultúrlann Mc Adam Ó Fiaich on the Falls Road, Belfast, Ireland, 12th of April 2014

An Lá Dearg i mBéal Feirste, the Red Day in support of Irish language rights, gathering at 2pm outside Cultúrlann Mc Adam Ó Fiaich on the Falls Road, Belfast, Ireland, 12th of April 2014

Following on from the mass demonstration held in Dublin eight weeks ago during which 10,000 people marched across the capital in support of Irish language rights another demonstration is planned for Belfast this Saturday, the 12th of April 2014. Gathering at 2pm outside Cultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiach, the Falls Road, in the west of the city the protesters will proceed to Custom House Square where they will be addressed by a number of guest speakers. Several hundred people are expected to attend but the more the better as the campaign to enact full equality between Irish-speaking and English-speaking citizens in Ireland (north and south) steps up a gear. So please participate in the day of action if you can or if you can’t please distribute the details to your family and friends on all your social networks. Remember, red is the colour of Irish language protests for Lá Dearg.

Arrested For Speaking Irish In Europe’s Darkest Corner

No blacks, no dogs, no Irish

No blacks, no dogs, no Irish

The President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, is on an official state visit to Britain, the first by an Irish head of state in some nine decades of independence. This follows the first official visit by Britain’s head of state, Elizabeth II, to Ireland and is yet another step in the ongoing choreography of the “Peace Process”, a process that continues to dominate the news headlines at home and abroad (even if most of the British media prefer to ignore it, unable to come to terms with peace in Ireland when war without end seemed so much more easier to digest). However just how far has this process actually progressed? The Irish Nationalist community in the north-east of our island nation continues to suffer levels of discrimination in employment and the provision of public services far above its Unionist rival. Despite the perception that the Nationalists have the “upper hand” politically they still struggle to gain equality socially and culturally. The language they speak, and even they very clothes they wear, makes them objects of suspicion and persecution.

On Sunday the 6th of April 2014 Diarmuid Mac Dubhghlais, the national treasurer of Sinn Féin Poblachtach (a minor Irish republican party and off-shoot of SF), was arrested and charged under counter-terrorism laws in the city of Derry by members of the PSNI, the British paramilitary police force in the north of Ireland. And the laws he broke? He answered in Irish to a question put to him in English. Yes, you read that right. An Irish citizen in Ireland was asked a question in English, he answered in the national language of Ireland, and for that he was arrested, charged and brought to court in Belfast under Britain’s counter-insurgency laws in our country. From the Belfast Telegraph:

“A man who gave his name and address in Irish when he was stopped by police has appeared at Londonderry Magistrates Court charged under anti-terrorism legislation.

Dermot Douglas (49) [ASF: that is Diarmuid Mac Dubhghlais], of Mellows Park in Dublin, was charged with not giving his details to the best of his ability under the Justice and Security Act on March 6.

Defence solicitor Brian Stelfox told the court his client had come out of a house in the Creggan area of the city and had been stopped by police, and when asked for identification gave his details in Irish.

District judge Barney McElholm asked: “Was the sum total of this case — that he gave his name in Irish?” Mr Stelfox said Douglas had “quite happily” allowed the police to search him, and then gave his name and address in Irish and was arrested.”

Peace process? One is tempted to ask, what peace process? However we have an even more outrageous event, from Hogan’s Stand, a bizarre attack on the rights of men and women in Ireland to wear the clothes they choose to wear if those clothes are recognisably Irish, and made by the leader of the TUV, one of several extreme parties amongst the Unionist minority:

“TUV leader Jim Allister says students wearing GAA jerseys to university are “creating a substantial chill factor”.

More and more Catholic students are opting to don club, county and college jerseys on campus at the north’s universities and – claiming to have received complaints from students at University of Ulster – Allister says the proliferation of GAA jerseys in intimidating members of the Protestant community.

In response to the Traditional Unionist Voice chief’s complaints, UU is to review its policy of allowing students to wear GAA tops…”

Forgot the Taliban. This is the Uniban. And forget western Europe. This is Europe’s regressive fringe. And we are part of it.

Saving The Language Commissioner

Sábháil Ár dTeanga

Sábháil Ár dTeanga

It’s been a hard struggle, and a long one, but the Fine Gael-Labour coalition government has finally succumbed to public pressure and agreed to retain the independent office of the Language Commissioner, the state official who oversees the implementation of the Official Languages Act. In Ireland the default language of government is English meaning that Irish-speaking citizens are placed at a disadvantage when using their native language while dealing with public officials or state documentation (ironically Irish is in fact Ireland’s “national” and “first official language” while English is merely recognised as “a second official language”. However governments of all hues gloss over this constitutional inconvenience, as do the police and the courts). The 2003 legislation was passed to ensure that limited equality was provided to Irish-speakers with their English-speaking peers after fears were expressed that the constitutional primacy of the Irish language could force the courts to judge in favour of a genuine system of bilingual governance and services. However the Anglophone culture of Ireland’s civil service and its general antipathy to Irish has meant that the regulations are barely adhered to which is why the investigatory role of the Language Commissioner was so important. Inevitably this earned the office the enmity of both public and political officials and resulted in the plans by the Fine Gael and Labour parties to effectively emasculate the office. So a retreat in the face of protests on the streets and elsewhere is welcome. However here’s the catch. There is every indication that the retention of the Language Commissioner is something of a smokescreen to hide the ongoing dismantling of the 2003 Act to render it even weaker and more ineffective than is already the case. In other words Ireland may have a Language Commissioner but there will be little to nothing for him to be commissioner of! From the Irish Times:

“Two major Irish-language groups, Gael Linn and Conradh na Gaeilge, have today welcomed the Government’s decision not to amalgamate the Office of Coimisinéir Teanga (Language Commissioner) with that of the Ombudsman. Chief Executive of Gael Linn, Mr Antoine Ó Coileáin, said that it was the right decision but he was still concerned that “the proposal to dovetail the publication of the annual report and accounts of An Coimisnéir Teanga seems to be designed to limit his access to the Houses of the Oireachtas with the attendant opportunity to highlight his work”.

He said that the Government’s Heads of Bill for a revised Official Languages’ Act, also published today, gave “an opportunity to learn from the first 10 years of the Act and to plan for the needs of a bilingual society. The office of An Coimisnéir Teanga must then be resourced appropriately to do its work”.

He had doubts over the proposed new “language schemes”, that is, agreed plans by which departments and organisations provide services through Irish for the public…”

This is just one victory in one battle of a war that has yet to be won.

No Aboriginal Culture In Trinity College, Please!

Trinity College, the University of Dublin. Bringing 1960s’ Alabama to Europe…!

Sir John Pentland Mahaffy GBE CVO, the late 19th and early 20th century Anglo-Irish classicist, was one of the most widely despised figures in the Unionist intelligentsia of pre-revolutionary Dublin. That is hardly surprising given his unremitting contempt for those he described as the “…aborigines of this island“. As well as serving in Britain’s colonial regime in Ireland, first as a High Sheriff and later as a Justice of the Peace, Mahaffy was also one of the last provosts of Trinity College in the decade leading up to independence. At the time (and for many long years thereafter) Trinity lay at the centre of the cultural and social life of Unionist Dublin, the aristocratic heart of “West Britain”. Given his chauvinistic views of the Irish people (echoes of which continue to sound in the contemporary Neo-Unionist movement) few will be shocked to learn that his greatest hatred lay for that most distinctive definition of Irishness: the Irish language. Throughout his academic career the scholar battled any recognition of the “Celtic speech”, let alone its presence in the hallowed halls of his university. Though, in fairness, he did magnanimously admit that a few words were useful if one were forced to converse with the peasants when shooting or fishing.

So it is interesting to see that the early 20th century spirit of Sir John Pentland Mahaffy is well and truly alive in early 21st century Trinity College. From the University Times:

“An Cumann Gaelach has voiced heavy criticism of the new Trinity logo presented to students for containing only the English Language in its default form, as opposed to the previously bilingual logo that has been used for many years.

A statement sent to all An Cumann Gaelach members and shared on Facebook explained that at an open forum for undergraduate students on April 2nd 2014, students were told that the default logo (crest and name) that would be considered and recognised as the predominant logo of Trinity College (The University of Dublin) would be in the English language only. They added: “A college, long been playfully made fun of as ‘An Coláiste Oráiste’ whose students have in recent years made unprecedented strides nationally at the forefront of the student Irish language movement is, seemingly, making moves to turn its back on those same students.”

An Cumann Gaelach has asked all those in favour of including the Irish language as part of the logo on all college materials, publications and communications to attend an open forum being held for staff and students tomorrow at 11am in the Stanley Quek Theatre in the Trinity Biomedical Sciences Institute on Pearse Street.”

So the predictions of quite a few observers have apparently come true (an Lorcánach and others, take note). Trinity College is once again to become a cold house for the “wrong type” of Irish

Sir John Pentland Mahaffy GBE CVO. We'll have no Abos in Trinners!

Sir John Pentland Mahaffy GBE CVO. We’ll have no Abos in Trinners!

Welsh, A Foreign Language In Britain

“Letter In A Foreign Language (Welsh)”

“Letter In A Foreign Language (Welsh)”

Substitute “Ireland” for “Wales” and “Irish” for “Welsh” and the discrimination revealed below would be pretty much the same. From a report in the Daily Post newspaper:

“After receiving a form in English from National Savings and Investments, 72-year-old Arfon Rhys sent it back and requested either a Welsh or bilingual form.

The letter he then received from NS&I – a state-owned savings bank backed by the Treasury – said: “We have received correspondence from you in your own language. As we do not translate from your language into English, we can’t reply to your letter.

“I enclose your original document so that you can arrange for it to be translated into English and resent to us. We will then be able to deal with your request.”

In a handwritten comment, the reason for returning the letter to Mr Rhys was given as “letter in a foreign language (Welsh)”.

The letter was written on March 12, just days after a landmark ruling that NS&I acted unlawfully by ending Welsh language services.

On March 6, two High Court judges in Cardiff ordered NS&I to restore its customer services in Welsh. They ruled that the agency’s decision last year to scrap its Welsh-language brochures, telephone service, correspondence and website was unlawful.”

[ASF: With thanks to Marconatrix for the link]

Some Irish Are More Equal Than Others

Dearg Le Fearg: Language Rights Are Civil Rights

Dearg Le Fearg: Language Rights Are Civil Rights

Forgive the “Animal Farm” paraphrase in the title above but it seemed appropriate when contemplating some recent articles written on linguistic equality by Anglophone journalists in Ireland and Canada. The first comes from the newspaper columnist Catherine O’Mahony in the Sunday Business Post where in two pieces she both praises and criticises the Irish language and those who speak it. In a convoluted argument that more or less eats its own tail she arrives at the conclusion that, yes, Irish-speaking citizens and communities in Ireland do face social ostracization for speaking in our nation’s indigenous language and are being pressurised into speaking in English. Her solution to the heretofore unacknowledged oppression of a significant section of the population? Remove the obligation to continue the teaching of Irish language skills to schoolchildren ages 12-18. This of course will lead to a situation where even fewer people will possess any understanding or respect for the Irish language (and more importantly those who speak it). Fascinatingly this is presented as a reasonable solution to the problem of the linguistic oppression of Hibernophones in an Anglophone milieu. While O’Mahony recognises that something is seriously wrong in modern “officially” bilingual Ireland it is obvious that her proposals will simply place another wedge in the ever-widening gap between Irish Ireland and English Ireland.

The second example comes from Canada and the journalist J.J. McCullough writing in the HuffingtonPost:

“The other night I had a bit of a Twitter tussle with Paul Wells, beloved Maclean’s political commentator.

To make a not terribly interesting story short, Paul sent out a tweet written in English linking to a blog written in French, and it grabbed my attention simply because it was the most recent instance of a tic I’ve noticed a fair bit from establishment-type journalists based in the eastern provinces: happily tweeting (or retweeting) in French, in glib indifference to the fact that very few of their followers could possibly be expected to understand.

According to the 2011 census, only 17 per cent of Canadians claim fluency in both official languages. An English journalist who tweets in French is thus purposely engaging in a weird sort of audience-alienating behaviour, and I’ve never understood precisely what motivates it.

Not that I begrudge anyone who’s proud they can do it, given that knowledge of French is the price of admission to the upper echelons of the Canadian elite.

Justin Trudeau once quipped that non-bilinguals are simply “lazy,” a Marie Antoinette-like bit of victim-blaming (“Let them learn French!”) popular with segments of the Canadian elite who simply can’t fathom why more peasants can’t find the time to study an exotic dying language utterly irrelevant to their daily lives.

Journalists and academics have long played a role in this “unilingual shaming” as well, posting long, untranslated French quotations in books or articles, excessively praising the merits of being “fluently bilingual” when evaluating the suitability of potential leaders, and of course, drifting in and out of French in supposedly public forums before overwhelmingly unilingual, English audiences  –  including social media.

People can speak  –  and tweet  –  in whatever language they want, but Canada’s second-class, 83 per cent majority have equal right to recoil from an overzealous, ostracizing culture of bilingualism, which is not, nor has ever been, rational, given the demographic realities of this overwhelmingly English country.”

A linguistic minority who function as a privileged elite in society secretly exercising the levers of power and oppressing the majority? A dying language no one speaks? Sound familiar? Given the opinions regular expressed by Anglophone journalists in Ireland I’ll call this the “Irish theory”.

[ASF: With thanks to Sinéad Rohan and Jean François Joubert]

Support From New York City For Irish Language Rights In Ireland

 People gather in Red Hook, Brooklyn, to demonstrate their support for Irish-speaking communities in Ireland, New York City, March 2014

People gather in Red Hook, Brooklyn, to demonstrate their support for Irish-speaking communities in Ireland, New York City, March 2014 (Íomhá: @ClubLeabharNYC)

Well done to everyone who gathered at the famous Rocky Sullivan’s Pub in Red Hook, Brooklyn, to show their support for the constitutional and legal rights of Irish-speaking communities and citizens in Ireland. These rights are under renwed assault from the current coalition government in Dublin supported by a hostile Anglophone media.

[ASF: With thanks to @ClubLeabharNYC]

The Ultimate Irish Joke

A wee bit o' da Oirish...

A wee bit o’ da Oirish…

It’s that time of year again when Ireland’s political establishment trots out its bit of lip-service and tokenism in relation to the country’s national and first official language. Except this year, in line with the increasingly discriminatory policies of the Fine Gael and Labour Party coalition government, they couldn’t even be bothered with that much. From the Irish Times

“It was “disastrous” and an “insult” that no senior Minister was available to take leaders’ questions through Irish on the one day in the year the Government assigned business to be conducted in Irish, the Dáil was told.

Minister for Jobs Richard Bruton, who took leaders’ questions yesterday, told the Opposition: “I would not feel competent to answer questions as Gaeilge with the sort of exactitude that would be necessary in this House”.

He was responding to Sinn Féin’s Aengus Ó Snodaigh, who sharply criticised the Government’s failure to provide an Irish-speaking Cabinet Minister for Dáil business yesterday.

Earlier, during a debate on the Irish language strategy, Mr Ó Snodaigh also said: “It’s so insulting that the Minister for the Gaeltacht who as a senior Cabinet Minister doesn’t have Irish.”

Mr Ó Snodaigh said the Government should follow the policy the PSNI used to encourage Catholics to join the police force and should reserve 25 per cent of public sector jobs and not the planned 6 per cent, for employees fluent in Irish.

Socialist Party TD Joe Higgins compared the extinction of plant and animal life with the threat to Irish.

He said it took thousands of years for a language to develop and a “community’s life and history was interconnected with the language”.

Independent TD Maureen O’Sullivan could not understand why since the foundation of the State every primary school was not a Gaelscoil up to first or second class. “Children are like sponges”, and even if they started with no Irish, within a year or two they could speak Irish, she said.”

From a report in the Irish Independent on the same event:

“THE Opposition has slammed the “farcical scenario” where the Government could not provide a single minister fluent in Irish to take Dail proceedings during Seachtain na Gaeilge.

There were bizarre scenes in Leinster House after Jobs Minister Richard Bruton admitted that he could only respond in English during a debate that was scheduled to be conducted in Irish.”

Constitutionally and legally the primacy of the Irish language is explicit: it is not only Ireland’s “national language” it is also “the first official language”. The secondary status of English is made clear in its description as “a second official language”. Note the crucial positioning of the words “national”, “the” and “a”. However, in reality, the government, the public services and the courts act as if it were the other way around. The bits of the constitution they find awkward they gloss over or ignore. So we have the bizarre situation where the national legislature of Ireland needs to designate a specific day in the year when it debates its laws and policies in its own language.

The ultimate Irish joke.

Ireland’s Citizens And Version-Citizens

Gaeilgeoir - Irish Rights Are Civil Rights!

Gaeilgeoir – Irish Rights Are Civil Rights!

The Official Languages Act of 2003 is one of the few pieces of legislation in Irish law that guarantees the (deliberately limited) rights of Irish-speaking citizens when dealing with the government of Ireland. It ensures that a minimum standard of Irish language and bilingual services are provided by most (though not all) public bodies. In fact, as we have seen, the emphasis is on the “minimum” and report after report has shown that the majority of government departments ignore or otherwise circumvent the regulations laid out under the act. Technically this is illegal. In reality much of the political establishment in Ireland is willingly complicit in fostering this culture of institutional discrimination by the State towards its Irish-speaking population

Back in 2012 I predicted that it was only a matter of time before the Fine Gael – Labour coalition government “gutted” the Official Languages Act of any meaning as part of their wider policy of targeting Hibernophone citizens and communities. The legislation is positively loathed by a number of anglophone Fine Gael and Labour TDanna, while many more are simply apathetic on the matter. So we now have the revelation of exactly that proposal in a government document leaked to the Irish Times newspaper:

“The Government is planning to row back on provisions in legislation guaranteeing Irish speakers equal access to State services, according to a document seen by The Irish Times.

A revised draft Official Languages (Amendment) Bill 2014 includes the removal of a provision requiring the publication in each of the official languages of documents setting out public policy proposals.

Citing the cost associated with the translation of documents as the reason for the amendment, an accompanying note says the move “will address one of the main concerns that have arisen in regards to the implementation costs associated with the Act”.

The draft also includes a proposal to extend the term of language schemes from 3 years to 7 years. Language schemes are currently reviewed after three years and an accompanying explanatory note says the proposed measure will “considerably lessen the administrative burden in drafting, agreeing and confirming language schemes.”

Under another heading, titled Irish names and postal addresses, the draft provides for the use by persons of the Irish language or English language “version” of their names and addresses when communicating with public bodies.

However, an accompanying note says this provision has potential practical implications as IT and other business systems used in the public sector may require a “lead-in” time prior to implementation.

Other measures listed in the draft legislation include an amendment allowing the Minister for the Gaeltacht to withdraw a notice to a public body requiring it to prepare a language scheme as well as the formal adoption of the 2011 decision to merge the Irish language Commissioner’s office with the office of the Ombudsman as part of the public sector reform programme.

Fianna Fáil’s Éamon Ó Cuív said the draft was “frightening” and questioned the basis for most of the proposed amendments.

Singling out the amendment providing for the use of Irish and English versions of names and addresses, Mr Ó Cuív said:

“I have to say that I always believed that no-one had the right to translate my name. I always thought that your name belonged to you yourself and that there was no right (for instance) to translate a Russian name into English.”

Conradh na Gaeilge president Cóilín Ó Cearbhaill said the draft bill heads “completely disregard the needs of the Gaeltacht and Irish-speaking community.”

Mr Ó Cearbhaill said the proposed amendments include “nothing but cutbacks and a reneging on promises of increased provision of public services in Irish.”

And just in case anyone has failed to get the message that there exists in Ireland a two-tiered system of citizenship, English-speakers and Irish-speakers, more news from the dark and murky world of “Irish” government, again via the Irish Times:

“It will take 100 years for 1 per cent of the public service to be able to provide services in Irish at the current rate of implementation of the Government’s Irish language strategy, it has been claimed.

Sinn Féin’s Gaeltacht Affairs spokesman Peadar Tóibín said that based on 300 public sector workers currently attending Irish language classes it would be a century before just 1 per cent of the public service had sufficient fluency in Irish to provide service in the language to the public.”

Tweet: I Am #NotAVersionCitizen

The Times They Are A-Changin’

Labhair Gaeilge

Labhair Gaeilge!

While some have tried to reprimand An Sionnach Fionn and its readers for our assertive contribution in redefining the debate around around Irish language rights in Ireland it is clear that we are merely in the vanguard of a far greater movement. From an article by Maitiú de Hál featured on

“FOR THE PAST number of weeks, a debate has been ongoing about what place the Irish language has in Irish society. All sides from the moderate to the extreme have been aired in the media, with one article in particular being flagged for using “hate speech”.

There are those who would view such a claim as a disingenuous ploy by the Irish language community to curry favour and to tug on people’s heartstrings invoking the same emotions felt when discussing South African apartheid or the Montgomery Bus boycott.

As an Irish speaker, I want to make it quite clear that I am not grooming myself to be the next Rosa Parks or Rodney King. Although our cases are not comparable, the current campaign shares a common thread with campaigns against racism, homophobia and all other sorts of prejudice. That is – respect.

Every human being on this Earth deserves respect, tolerance and not to be judged by ill-informed prejudice.

…broad generalisations by journalists, bloggers and trolls alike that accuse Gaeilgeoirí of the basest of motives are hate speech. Characterisations that we are stubborn, fanatics, “Gaeilgeoir Grenadiers,” “an indulged minority,” “Nazi Gaeilgeoirí” and “Gaeilge Taliban” fall into this territory. Commentators have not thought twice about uttering that raising your children with Irish is tantamount to “child abuse” and that we “should try living like the rest of us then.“ Utterances such as the latter create a sense of ‘us’ and ‘them’ and only serve to divide and alienate.

We can be dismissed as an “other” but not protected as an “other.”

What I do know is that awful feeling that can come over me when it comes up in conversation that I am an Irish speaker, being asked what my name is in English or being berated for all the evils inflicted on Irish school children from 1922 until present day. I know what it is to be verbally abused in the street and at work. Go back to your own country. Stop speaking that dead language.

This is a feeling which reduces you to that awkward “other.” You are no longer Maitiú. You are a stereotype, pigeon-holed for convenience and dismissed as delusional, a fanatic RA-head, hell-bent on singing seannós at a séance at Newgrange to resurrect Dev, Peig and Cú Chulainn and inflict your senseless, archaic, irrelevant culture upon a country that is just getting by. A country trying to pay the bills, the mortgage and the social charge.

Must I forfeit my right to be an Irish speaker to retain my privilege as an English speaker?

Irish is my primary language. I use it in my professional and personal life. To speak English to many of my friends would be as alien to us as it would be for many to suddenly start speaking Irish to each other.

Current practise misleads Irish speakers into thinking that they are not entitled to services yet many non-Irish speakers are led to believe that we receive everything for which we ask.

In spite of these obstacles, Irish speakers continue to exist but the contexts in which we can exist as such are being eroded by our fear of antipathy and apathy of the State and of a very vocal minority in the media.

What has sustained our language as a living one is the deep personal bonds between us which have been forged through family, social, educational and professional relationships. We are representative of an entire spectrum of different classes, ages, nationalities, colours, creeds and sexual orientations. You always see us, you just might not hear us. While some may ask why weren’t we all out on the streets for something else. We have been. At different times, at different places and with different people. And still, we came out on Lá Mór na Gaeilge. To us, it is that important.

What will you come out for?”

The vast majority of people in Ireland, Hibernophone and Anglophone alike, have no place in their hearts or minds for petty prejudice. Most English-speakers on this island nation rightly regard the indigenous Irish language as their own, whether they speak it or not. They see that tongue as the historic national language of their country and support its continued protection and eventual restoration. Few fear a truly bilingual Irish and English Ireland, and many would welcome a monolingual Irish Ireland. In truth there is only a tiny minority of bigots who hate the Irish language. Or rather they hate those who speak the Irish language. They are the inheritors of the anti-Irish racism of British colonial rule in Ireland, throw-backs to the age of Pale and Plantation. They think Ireland’s native language and culture is inferior to all others and certainly inferior to the Anglo-American brand of Oirishness that they have adopted and which they believe is superior to that which came before (or which still exists in rivalry). They hold sway over much of “Official Ireland”, from politics to the media, and it these self-denying Irish people, lost in time and place, who hold back the use and growth of the Irish language.

For they see the writing on the wall… מנא, מנא, תקל, ופרסין.

Irish Rights Are Indigenous Rights?

Dearg le Fearg

Dearg le Fearg

The biggest deterrent to speaking Irish in Ireland? The hostile or derisory responses it elicits from a handful of chauvinistic English-speakers who believe that the indigenous speech of this island nation is actually is a “foreign” or “minority” language and should be treated as such (which says much for how they view both foreigners and minorities…). For many citizens of Ireland the experiences recounted in this article by the Australian-born director and documentary film-maker Paula Kehoe are all too familiar:

“I was born and raised in Australia and I came to Ireland and began learning Irish in my thirties. I consider myself to be extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to learn it. While I’m a long way from being articulate ‘as Gaeilge’ I am for the most part beyond the pain barrier that everyone experiences learning a language as an adult. I have had some of the best times of my life learning Irish. But it didn’t take me long to realise that I had also entered a cultural obstacle course.

In the early days I was surprised to find I had to justify myself a lot to people who think the language is worthless. I can’t tell you how many times I was asked ‘Why on earth would you want to learn Irish?’, as if I had had some kind of breakdown and was retreating from the real world into the badlands of a distant past. The companion questions were ‘What is the point?’, ‘What can you do with it?’ and once I was asked ‘Why don’t you go back to Australia and learn an Aboriginal language?’. That is still on my list.

The biggest obstacle I encountered was the ‘shame barrier’.

This really kicked in once I was able to converse in Irish. I would be standing with a group of people in a pub in Galway speaking English when an Irish speaking friend passed by. We would have a quick chat and when I turned back to the group the atmosphere had completely changed. Some people would say how embarrassed they were that I could speak Irish as a ‘foreigner’ when they couldn’t. Others felt excluded and resented it. In their view it was ignorant of us to speak in a language they couldn’t understand in their company. Particularly one that made them feel bad about themselves and perhaps even a little ashamed. I listened to stories about how badly it was taught in schools in these contexts many, many times. So I learned a script that made everything okay. I said that because I was Australian I was let off the hook a bit by Irish speakers and I had an easier time of it than Irish foghlaimeoirí. There may be some truth in that. I also said that because I didn’t go to school here and Irish wasn’t ‘shoved down my throat’ I didn’t have the same emotional baggage relating to the language. I would couch it in familiar terms and that too seemed to make people feel better.

However I do have emotional baggage. It’s just different.

In his book Decolonising the Mind the Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o says that the most effective area of colonial domination is the “mental universe of the colonised, the control, through culture of how people perceived themselves and their relationship to the world.” He says that political and economic control aren’t possible without cultural control, which “annihilate(s) a peoples belief in their names, in their languages, in their environment, in their heritage of struggle, in their unity, in their capacities and ultimately in themselves.”

I recognise this in my own family, and having been brought up in Australia I recognise it in the devastation wrought on Indigenous Australians. Their diverse languages and cultures were seen as worthless and uncivilised and the view was that they needed to be relieved of them by a paternalistic colonial ruling class. Aboriginal communities have placed language maintenance and revival at the centre of their struggle to regain something of what was taken from them. Language and culture have also become central in defining Aboriginal identity and many would give anything to have their own living language back.

Up until the 1970s assimilationist policies in Australia also extended to non-English speaking immigrants. I have memories in my youth of people speaking Italian, Greek or Mandarin amongst themselves being told ‘to speak fucking English’. Policies that recognise diversity and have supported multiculturalism have done a lot to help change people’s attitudes.

I’ve heard people say that they would love to speak Irish, but they feel that they’re perceived as not good enough by some Irish speakers and so feel rejected. That there’s an exclusivity and an elitism connected to the Irish language. It can be very difficult terrain.

I can only speak from my own experience, but I had my moments when I just wanted to give it up. I’d speak Irish to people, they’d speak English back. It made me feel bad and I felt I wasn’t ever going to be able to communicate. I came to understand that in many small communities the language was spoken amongst people who all knew each other and their respective families well, going back generations. Often the same people were discriminated against for speaking Irish. So it took time and I had to build relationships and trust. Just because I was enthusiastic about learning the language didn’t mean they had to automatically let me in. Some people didn’t want me to feel uncomfortable as I struggled to make myself understood in Irish and so speaking English was an effort to ease my discomfort, and no doubt their own. I realised I had to let people know I was serious about it and make a huge effort. What I found then was incredible generosity and open heartedness.

When I participated in the march for Irish language rights in Dublin recently I had a few conflicting feelings. I wondered momentarily if I had the right to be there as an Australian. I wanted to be there because I am grateful to every Irish teacher I have ever had and to every person who has ever taken the time to encourage me. I’m also proud to be a part of the Irish language community.

As we walked down O’Connell Street the gravity of the situation really hit home. Irish speakers are marching for recognition and rights as if they are a maligned ethnic minority or indeed an oppressed indigenous people. It seems for many people that is what Irish speakers represent.

A friend from Carna remarked that this was the first day in her life that she had spoken Irish from morning to night other than when she was at home. There were people there from all over the country who make herculean efforts to maintain Irish as a living language both in and outside of Gaeltacht areas. In a recent article Rónán Ó Muirthile made an appeal for public support so that he is able to pass Irish on to his son “so that that deeper heritage survives for all Irish people.”

What I’ve learned is that the world looks very different through the lens of Irish. It has helped me to make sense of it. I can’t express those feelings adequately in your native language, but I can appreciate those who do and that has been a gift. Through them, I feel deeply connected to a language and a culture that I didn’t even know existed.”

As always read the whole thing to gain a deeper understanding of the emotional struggle that many people in Ireland, whatever their origin, face when trying to speak Irish in an unfriendly English milieu conditioned by centuries of external colonial rule. And why so many simply give up.

Meanwhile from the Irish Times:

“State services for Gaeltacht communities through Irish must be guaranteed “without condition or question” by 2016, newly elected president of Conradh na Gaeilge, Dubliner Cóilín Ó Cearbhaill, said at the weekend.

Mr Ó Cearbhaill, who was elected at its ardfheis in Killarney, said the language was at a “critical juncture”, with the Irish speaking community North and South seeking to have their language rights vindicated by both governments.

He said the demand for language rights was evidenced by the high attendance at two events in February: Lá Mór na Gaeilge, attended by up to 10,000 people, and Slán le Seán in Connemara, attended by up to 1,000 people. He predicted another high turnout for the upcoming An Lá Dearg in Belfast in April.”

[With thanks to An Lorcánach and others for the links]

An English Ireland Fears An Irish Ireland

Tá an Réabhlóid ag Teacht!

Tá an Réabhlóid ag Teacht!

For over two-and-a-half years An Sionnach Fionn has been reporting on the rising levels of public antipathy towards Irish-speaking citizens in Ireland and the heightened culture of discrimination within the country’s departments of government. Since 2011 we’ve examined the reduction or blocking of services through the Irish language by large sections of the state, even within legally-recognised Irish-speaking communities or Gaeltachtaí. We’ve seen how the deliberate avoidance or breaking of regulations laid down by the Official Languages Act of 2003 by English-speaking civil servants and their political masters has created a culture of consequence-free prejudice that now pervades every aspect of Ireland’s dealings with its Hibernophone citizenry. To many observers both at home and abroad traditional Irish-speaking communities are being targeted for extinction by the very state which claims their allegiance through the erosion of their special legal and cultural status as the heartlands of a distinctive Irish Ireland. Now Irish-speakers are arrested by the Gardaí or police for answering in Irish to questions put to them in English (and treated, in the words of the arresting officers, as “foreigners”). Meanwhile the Supreme Court of Ireland has ruled that Irish-speaking defendants can be legally denied trial by those who speak the Irish language while English-speaking defendants are legally guaranteed trial by those who speak the English language.

Into this culture of Hibernophobic mania comes this interjection by the Irish journalist and broadcaster Bláthnaid Ní Chofaigh who two years ago rightly identified the bigotry towards Irish-speakers in Ireland as “racism”. In yesterday’s Sunday Independent newspaper she highlighted the increasingly desperate plight of a minority population under linguistic siege from a majority where those with the loudest voices and the greatest influence are the most bigoted:

“Blathnaid Ni Chofaigh does a great Dort accent. No, in fact, Blathnaid Ni Chofaigh does an awful Dort accent – awfully accurate and just a little bit angry. She does impersonations of those who marvelled at the fact that she, “Omigod, spoke Irish at home,” when she first moved to Dublin. She also mimics those people at dinner parties, who tell her they “don’t see the point” of Irish.

And then there is a special passion reserved for the woman on the sidelines of a schoolboy rugby match, who made the mistake of asking, “What’s that language you’re speaking?”

There’s no affection and a lot of irritation in Blathnaid’s impersonations and, given that she lives in the heart of comfortable south County Dublin, you imagine that she must feel irritated a lot of the time.

Spend some time with Blathnaid Ni Chofaigh, however, and you see where this comes from. Sure, she lives in south Dublin and has spent all her working life in the heart of Dublin 4, but, in many ways, Blathnaid regards herself as a stranger in a strange, English-speaking land.

She feels, fundamentally, like an outsider, and the fight that is so evident in Blathnaid – the feistiness, the spunkiness – all come from that position.

One thing that unsettles her in the state broadcaster, however, is what Blathnaid perceives as a devaluing of the commitment to the Irish language. She laments that the television Irish-language programming department is open only six months of the year…

At work, Blathnaid says, a few colleagues have approached her recently, asking her to revive the Irish-conversation sessions she used to conduct over lunch in the RTE canteen. “I loved them,” she laughs, “I’d really get off on that kind of thing. Partly from a performing point of view, partly bossy, partly evangelical.” The colleagues’ requests are born out of the fact that their kids attend gaelscoileanna and they, the parents, are floundering when it comes to doing homework with them.

And Blathnaid admires that they admit their weakness, and that they want to do something about it. It’s the ones who make no effort that drive her mad, she explains.

At the dinner parties, where fellow guests – in their Dort accents, as she relates it – tell her that Irish was drummed into them and they “don’t see the point of it”. Blathnaid replies that its she who got the Irish-language raw deal, not them. “I tell them,” she says, “‘That I left my area, I had no choice, I had to speak English.’ And they say, ‘Oh, that’s not the same.’ Well, they had the advantage over me, that’s my point.

“I mean, all my life, I’m thinking in Irish and translating in my head before I speak,” Blathnaid explains. “I think in Irish, I cry in Irish. If I’m really upset or angry, I can’t even speak in English.

“I gave birth to the kids in Irish and even, being honest, when I’m intimate with Ciaran, it’s in Irish. And I can translate pretty fast, but it’s a lonely place to be.

“I do feel like a minority, and I think that, if we were to take offence, genuinely, like other minorities, then people might stand up and take notice. I think it’s racism, I really do.””

Talking of taking notice, Declan Lynch, media demagogue of the Anglophone lobby, replies in the Irish Independent with unapologetic disdain for the rights of Irish-speaking citizens:

“…the recent resignation of the Irish Language Commissioner, mainly on the grounds that the State is no longer supporting the language, is obviously a good thing.

His objection to the way things are done these days, suggests that there has been a change of attitude on the part of the State. And any change is self-evidently bound to be good, or at least better than whatever was there before.

Unfortunately, the role of Irish Language Commissioner itself has not been abolished. But we are indebted to the old one for his complaint that due to the lack of civil servants who are fluent in Irish, it is now compulsory for most Irish speakers to speak English in their official dealings.”

The rest of the article is taken up with the usual belittling propaganda of the English language extreme: Irish-speakers are mere “enthusiasts” not a distinct community with their own linguistic and cultural identity, one that is shared by hundreds of thousands of English-speakers in Ireland who reject the prejudice espoused by the Mad Mullahs of Angloland. Though for a change and in contradiction of his own argument Lynch accuses Hibernophones of fostering a system in the Irish state of “institutional discrimination” against English-speakers. That’s right, Deaglán Declan, Irish-speakers in Ireland are such a “powerful elite” that they created a rights’ Commissioner and language rights’ legislation to enforce their will on everyone else in the country – both of which are now in complete disarray following years of obstruction by English-speaking politicians and public servants.

Rather than making a serious point Lynch’s use of the term “institutional discrimination” simply reflects the manner in which An Sionnach Fionn has reframed the debate over the Irish language (and become essential reading in some hostile media circles). This website and its readers have led the fightback against Anglophone intolerance in Ireland, we have repositioned Irish rights as civil rights – and English-speaking zealots have sat up and taken notice. They now know that the “Gaels” will no longer be passive actors in a would-be tragedy penned by others.

Like the militant extreme of the British Unionist community in the north-east of Ireland the militant extreme of Anglophones know that demographic change is on the way. They are frightened – and they are showing it.

Medieval Discrimination In A Modern Ireland

We'll have none of that Irish shite here! You're Irish! So speak English!

We’ll have none of that Irish shite here! You’re Irish! So speak English! (Íomha: An Timire)

The 14th century Statues of Kilkenny are generally remembered as one of the poorer attempts by the British state in Ireland to maintain its authority over this island nation during the Medieval period. They were a body of laws passed in 1366/7 to prevent the erosion of the distinctive identity of the Anglo-British colonists in the country and their assimilation into indigenous Irish society. It essence their purpose was to stop English men, women and children in Ireland becoming Irish men, women and children. Of course their prime target was the Irish language, that most obvious sign of Irishness.

“Whereas at the conquest of the land of Ireland and for a long time after the English of the said land used the English language, mode of riding and apparel, and were governed and ruled, both they and their subjects called Betaghes, according to the English law… now many English of the said land, forsaking the English language, manners, mode of riding, laws and usages, live and govern themselves according to the manners, fashion and language of the Irish enemies; and also have made divers marriages and alliances between themselves and the Irish enemies aforesaid; whereby the said land and the liege people thereof, the English language, the allegiance due to our lord the king, and the English laws there, are put in subjection and decayed, and the Irish enemies exalted and raised up contrary to reason…

Also, it is ordained and established that every Englishman do use the English language, and be named by an English name leaving off entirely the manner of naming used by the Irish; and that every Englishman use the English custom, fashion, mode of riding and apparel, according to his estate; and if any English, or Irish living amongst the English, use the Irish language amongst themselves, contrary to the ordinance, and thereof be attained, his lands and tenements, if he have any, shall be seized into the hands of his immediate lord until he shall come to one of the places of our lord the king and find sufficient surety to adopt and use the English language…

…no difference of allegiance shall henceforth be made between the English born in Ireland and the English born in England, by calling them English hobbe or Irish dog but that all be called by one name…”

Over 600 years later it seems that little has changed as the Supreme Court of Ireland has enacted a new Statute of Kilkenny for the 21st century: Irish-speaking citizens have no constitutional or legal right to be judged in court by Irish-speaking juries. In contrast English-speaking citizens have every constitutional and legal right to be judged in court by English-speaking juries. In fact it has been revealed that the Court Service of Ireland screens potential jurors to ensure their fluency in the English language. However it is not permitted to screen potential jurors to ensure their fluency in the Irish language. In other words English-speaking defendants are legally entitled to judgement by English-speaking jurors but Irish-speaking defendants have no legal entitlement to judgement by Irish-speaking jurors! From the Irish Times:

“While the State had instituted an informal screening system to ensure jurors in Dublin have an adequate command of English, it had argued it would be unlawful to operate such a screening system in the interests of producing a jury with an adequate understanding of Irish…”

How is this anything but discriminatory in form and practice? It places the rights of English-speaking citizens above those of Irish-speaking citizens. It places Irish-speaking defendants in court cases at a disadvantage when on trial if they choose to be tried through the medium of Irish in front of English-only juries who will require translators to follow the proceedings. Furthermore given the levels of antipathy towards Irish-speakers in society the very real possibility that some jurors will hold hostile views towards Irish-speakers will inevitably prejudice their trials.

What is any of this but a Statute of Kilkenny for the 21st century? Even some members of the Supreme Court are aware of the anomaly as pointed out by Justice Adrian Hardiman in his judgement, the only one of the five judges to express dissent at the decision of the court:

“Peadar Ó Maicín, the appellant in this case, is a citizen of Ireland who lives in Galway. He is a native speaker of the Irish language, that is Irish is his first language and he has spoken it continuously since he was able to speak at all. He subsequently learned English. He was reared and educated in Rosmuc in the Connemara Gaeltacht.

…part of what is implied by the constitution of this State as a bilingual State, by Article 8 of the Constitution. If that is impractical, or really cannot be done for reasons of resources, or for any other reason, then the position may be addressed by the Oireachtas, pursuant to Article 8.3. But, absent such action by the Oireachtas, the bilingual nature of the State requires that the Tribunal of Fact understand the evidence as it is given. I believe that in any other State that proposition would be regarded as axiomatic, as it clearly is in Canada, on the basis of the information summarised elsewhere in this judgement.

I have already quoted with respectful approval Clarke J.’s statement that:

“It follows that those wishing to conduct official business in Irish do have a right, derived from the constitutional status of the Irish language, to have their business conducted in Irish.”

If that statement was unqualified then there would be no difference of opinion in this case. But it is immediately qualified as follows:

“However it equally follows that that right is not absolute and must be balanced against all the circumstances of the case (not least the fact that the great majority of the Irish people do not use Irish as their ordinary means of communication) particularly the fact that other citizens are entitled to conduct their business in English as an official language, and also any other competing constitutional interest which may arise.”

As we have seen, this is not the first time where the rights of an Irish speaker are diluted by reference to alleged competition with the rights of English speakers.

This formulation and approach appears to me to ignore the fact that the effect of Article 8 is to render Ireland a bilingual country. This means that there must be parity of respect for each language and its users. Mr. Ó Maicín’s right to use the Irish language is in no way affected if the defendant tried before him, or the defendant after him, opts to take his trial in English. Equally, the rights of those English speakers are in no way affected by Mr. Ó Maicín’s opting to take his trial in Irish.

As we have seen, both the constitutional composition of the State, and the current policy of the State, is one of bilingualism or as the current policy document calls it “functional bilingualism”.

We have represented to the European Union that Irish is in use as a vernacular language in the State. I simply cannot understand how such a representation could be made if it is impossible for a citizen to have a trial in this “vernacular” language in the Courts established by the very Constitution which constitutes the State a bilingual polity.

Ireland became a bilingual State not because, as in some countries (Belgium, Canada, India), there were severe conflicts threatening the very existence of the State on the topic of language use, but as a deliberate choice. It was enshrined in the Constitution also as an act of deliberate choice. Once enshrined in the Constitution, the language provisions became part of what the Judges promise “to uphold”. That promise is to “uphold the Constitution”, not to “uphold it as far as may be reasonable in present day conditions, as perceived by them”.

If it is thought that it is now simply too difficult to uphold the Constitution in the manner identified by the various cases cited in this judgement, it would be more honest to amend the Constitution or to legislate in the manner permitted by Article 8.3. But neither of these are for the judges to do: action on them must be initiated by one or other of the political organs of government.”

[With thanks to Cuan Ó Seireadáin for the link to Justice Hardiman's written judgement]

Ireland’s Supreme Court, Rights Of Irish-Speaking Citizens Are Conditional

Ireland in chains

Éire in chains

Several writers and activists have protested recently at my characterization of Irish-speakers in Ireland as second-class citizens with second-class rights. They say it goes too far and misrepresents the true political and legal situation for Hibernophones in this country. So, in answer, from a report today by RTÉ:

“A native Irish speaker who is due to go on trial for assault has lost his Supreme Court bid to have his case heard by a bilingual jury.

Mr Ó Maicín had claimed he was entitled to present his defence in Irish and to have his case heard by a jury who were sufficiently competent in Irish to hear the case without the assistance of a translator.

He lost his case in the High Court and appealed to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court ruled against him by a four to one majority.

In his judgment, Mr Justice Frank Clarke said that Mr Ó Maicín enjoyed a constitutional right to conduct official business fully in Irish.

But he said that right was not absolute and may have to give way to other considerations.”

Yet again the courts have ruled that an Irish-speaker in Ireland is not entitled to a trial entirely through the medium of the Irish language but must perforce except trial and judgement by those who cannot speak his or her language. It implicitly elevates the rights of English-speaking citizens above those of Irish-speaking citizens while making the latter “foreigners” in their own nation. For only in Ireland can you be arrested and detained for speaking in your own language.

However not everyone agreed with this discriminatory grading of constitutional rights.

“In a dissenting judgment, Mr Justice Adrian Hardiman made a declaration that Mr Ó Maicín was entitled to be tried before a jury who would understand evidence given in Irish directly, without the assistance of an interpreter.

In his judgment, Mr Justice Hardiman said the State and organs of Government had cast the entire burden of promoting the use of the Irish language on successive generations of school children.

He said apart from that, the actions of the State in relation to the Irish language had been uniformly minimalist and grudging.

The judge also said he did not believe there was any other country in the world in which a citizen would not be entitled to conduct his business before a court in the national and first official language and to be understood directly by such court in that language.”

So, oh critics of An Sionnach Fionn, do you still believe that full equality under the law exists between the two language communities that share this island nation? Or are you content with, at best, conditional equality?

Update: A report in the Irish Times on the above case has confirmed information supplied to me earlier today. Ireland’s court service has in fact been using for some time an unofficial system of tests to screen out jurors who are believed to have an insufficient grasp of the English language. So English-speaking citizens are guaranteed English-speaking juries by the courts and government while Irish-speaking citizens are denied Irish-speaking juries?

“While the State had instituted an informal screening system to ensure jurors in Dublin have an adequate command of English, it had argued it would be unlawful to operate such a screening system in the interests of producing a jury with an adequate understanding of Irish…”

Am I the only one absolutely astonished by this utterly hypocritical double-standard in the administration of justice in Ireland? It is beyond satire…