Idirdhealú (Discrimination)

Ireland’s English State

The nation-state of Oirland, sure an' begorrah, 'tis the Queen's Ainglish that we spake!

The nation-state of Oirland, sure an’ begorrah, ’tis the Queen’s Ainglish that we spake!

Another year, another name-and-shame report from Ireland’s Language Commissioner, the independent ombudsman tasked with overseeing the implementation of the country’s Official Languages Act of 2003. This legislation guarantees limited rights for Irish-speaking citizens alongside their English-speaking peers (emphasis on the “limited”). However since its inception the profound levels of institutionalised discrimination in Ireland’s Anglophone public services has ensured that the act is more often breached than implemented, with hundreds of complaints being lodged every year against the Irish state by its own citizens (that’s several thousand over the last decade). Unsurprisingly 2013 has turned out to be another poor period for pluralism in Ireland. While 24% of complaints came from within the Gaeltachtaí or recognised Irish-speaking communities overall some 76% of complaints were made outside of those regions. Dublin had the greatest percentage of recorded issues (38%), which at least indicates that Ireland’s indigenous language has become a national one once again.

Reading the report in detail the extraordinary lengths various government bodies go to in order to deny Irish-speakers equality of service with English-speakers is nothing short of astonishing (and remember the use of the Irish language is deliberately restricted under the legislation through the use of so-called “schemes” and “exclusions”). Civil servants up and down the country will engage in hundreds of hours of work, and at considerable public expense, defending decisions and policies that are blatantly discriminatory in form and function. What’s more they will often do so with the backing of locally elected representatives. We are left with a culture of law-breaking by the very people tasked with upholding the law because they disagree with it. And what happens when officials are found guilty of failing their legal duties under the regulations. Why, they simply remove the offending regulations of course. What else? Is it any wonder that Seán Ó Cuirreáin, the previous Language Commissioner, resigned in despair when faced with these Kafkaesque-levels of bureaucratic chauvinism? One stand-out controversy features a decision by the Department of Education to try and impose an English-speaking teacher with no native fluency in Irish on an Irish-speaking community to teach, through Irish, Irish-speaking schoolchildren. To call it an extraordinary decision is to be generous. A more honest appraisal would be that sections of the Irish government clearly regard Irish-speakers as lesser citizens simply because of the language they speak. Lesser citizens deserving of lesser treatment. And that includes their children.

I strongly recommend that you read the report for yourself. It is certainly an eye-opening insight into the culture of linguistic apartheid that continues to pervade the apparatus of the modern “Irish” state.

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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.

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!

Gabriel Rosenstock, Margadh Na Míol In Valparaíso

Margadh na Míol in Valparaíso

Would I be right in suggesting that Gabriel Rosenstock and Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill are probably the two greatest living Irish poets? There are many contenders for that title but when looks at the breadth of their works it is hard to imagine a more deserving rival than those two doyens of Ireland’s literary scene. Sometimes I prefer Rosenstock, sometimes Ní Dhomhnaill, each appealing to my particular moods or where I am in life (in fact at the moment I am sick as the proverbial madra but that is an aside).Of course the Anglophone media don’t rate either very highly and for one reason and one reason only: they write in Irish not English. So while the late Séamus Heaney will be rightfully eulogised those who express their art through our island nation’s indigenous tongue will forever be placed at the back of the literary bus. Indeed both receive greater respect and admiration outside of their own country than they have ever done at home. So this is interesting, from Mícheál Ó hAodha in the Irish Times:

“It is common knowledge that Gabriel Rosenstock belongs to the Innti generation of poets, that generation that coalesced around UCC in the early-1970s and who sparked the smouldering embers of a hitherto rural-based Irish language idiom and culture into life, a culture that was like an old dead woman whom a former lover can’t bear to rest his eyes upon in the wake-house. The Irish language was battered and bogged down and had nothing urban or hip about it.

But the Innti generation of Ní Dhomhnaill, Davitt, Rosenstock, Ó Muirthile and co. came along and put a fire beneath it. Like the “Burnings Limbs”(or the “Géaga tré Thine” (2006) – (a title of one of Rosenstock’s poetry collections) and inspired and energized by the tearing down of old barriers and repressions on the broader stage of the world – the burgeoning civil rights movements of Northern Ireland and the USA, the Paris upheavals, the struggles for minority rights among peoples, languages and cultures – the Innti generation created a new and transgressive language, a language of challenge and rebellion, both political and social.

This is all common knowledge. It is well-known amongst the literary cognoscenti of Ireland. Or is it?! The reality is that the Irish language including Irish language poetry is so marginal to this country’s literary circles in the apparently “multicultural” Ireland of today, so peripheral still, that no-one is quite sure what space it occupies – if any.

What might not be so well-known outside to those outside the small world of Irish-language literature is that Gabriel Rosenstock, of the aforementioned Innti generation continued (and continues) writing. This bilingual volume Margadh na Míol in Valparaíso/The Flea Market in Valparaíso (Cló Iar-Chonnacht) is a very comprehensive collection of his “New and Selected Poems” as translated by Paddy Bushe…

Rosenstock and his fellow Irish-language poets are constantly breaking new ground and became interlocutors with the wider poetic worlds of Eastern Europe, the US and Asia long before many of their more staid European contemporaries did. Why is this?

… it is not because they have that ancient “sense of place” that so fascinated the Irish poets of old; it is that the language is their home-place rather than any geographical locale.

This brings with it an enormous freedom. And yet Irish-language poets such as Rosenstock are still an essential element and link in the Gaelic literary tradition. They haven’t abandoned the responsibility that goes with the oldest role of the poet in Irish culture – to act as a balm when people are hurt or damaged by the violence of this world, to celebrate profound sadness and ecstasy or to reflect more deeply on the nature of life and the world.”

Ireland, The Dysfunctional Poster-Child Of Minority Rights

Fianna Fáil, back from the dead

Fianna Fáil, back from the dead ( (Photo: Séamas Ó Sionnaigh, Binn Éadair, Cúige Laighean, Éire, Meitheamh 2012)

The Hidden Ireland blog has a short post listing a number of motions on the Irish language from this year’s Fianna Fáil Ard-Fheis. Unsurprisingly these proposals are the very embodiment of the lip-service and tokenism that Irish-speaking communities have been complaining of for decades. Not one single concrete suggestion is offered up nor indeed does FF as a whole have any policy documents of its own beyond some fluffy sentiments in relation to the disingenuous 20-Year Strategy for the Irish Language 2010-2030 (already four years overdue any significant implementation beyond rolling back the civil rights of Irish-speaking citizens). Is it any wonder that academics and cultural activists around the globe hold up Ireland as the dysfunctional poster-child of minority rights and language restoration? Ireland, the country you go to in order to learn what not to do.

By the by, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin TD intoned the phrase “progressive republican” in his speech to describe his party. Sound familiar oh fellow progressive republican readers of An Sionnach Fionn?

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]

Putting The Irish Into Irish Shops

A bilingual sign in a Tesco supermarket in Dublin, Ireland. Note the smaller, shaded-out Irish language text compared to the prominent English text

A bilingual sign in a Tesco supermarket in Dublin, Ireland. Note the smaller, shaded-out Irish language text compared to the prominent English text

Up to a few years ago my local branch of Tescos, the British retail giant that expanded into the Irish market during the heyday of the Celtic Tiger, displayed a number of bilingual signs on their premises that carried small-font Irish translations below large-font English names (pretty much like our road signs and most government buildings, and as pointed an illustration of cultural status as one could find). However they eventually disappeared to be replaced by monolingual English signs without any explanation as to why. So it’s with interest that I read this report from the Irish Times:

“Tesco is considering the introduction of bilingual self-service checkouts across the supermarket chain’s 146 shops in the State.

The move to update software with Irish language capability is being “actively” considered, a company spokesman said. It follows the introduction of a similar programme in Wales six years ago.

Customers at one of the largest Tesco shops in the West can already pay for their shopping in Irish following the recent introduction of Irish language services at the Galway Shopping Centre branch.

The retailer has designated a till at the company’s Headford Road branch for Irish speakers on foot of the positive reaction to the introduction of bilingual signage throughout the shop last summer.

The company has extended the use of bilingual signage to staff areas, delivery vans and to the canteen where the menu has also been translated. Classes have been held for staff and have been well received by staff.

Branch manager Denis McCarthy said the reaction has been very positive.

“If you walk around the store and listen to people, you’d be amazed at the number that speak Irish naturally as they walk around – doing their shopping, with their kids, or on the phone.”

The company has also posted staff policies, rosters and office signage in Irish. The canteen menu has been translated and twelve staff members wear designated badges to say they speak the language.

Not only has the introduction of Irish as a working language appealed to native Irish speakers – others have taken the opportunity to either brush up on the Irish they learned at school as have some who are new to it altogether.

Texan Patti Feerick who is personnel manager at the Headford Road branch has availed of the lessons herself along with some Polish colleagues.

“It’s amazing the amount of people that come out of the woodwork. We have a very large Polish community as well and they’re taking on the language,” she said.”

The success of the campaign by civil rights activists in Wales to have bilingual services provided by Tesco and other retail stores operating in their country has been little short of astonishing. A long and hard fought struggle with a mix of passive and very much in-your-face lobbying has yielded huge benefits (though there is still much further to go until true equality of service is reached). So what are Ireland’s nation-wide language groups doing to effect change here? The people in Galway have shown what is possible but that cannot remain an isolated success. Lots of tried and tested campaigning ideas suggest themselves. Email blitzes on head-offices, marches or pickets outside monolingual-only supermarkets and shops, lobbying local politicians and journalists, etc.

So who is going to start the ball rolling?

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]

Culture Wars In Ireland And Britain

The coverage of issues relating to Irish-speaking citizens and communities in Ireland by the Anglophone media

The coverage of issues relating to Irish-speaking citizens and communities in Ireland by the Anglophone media

Hot on the heels of my post discussing the urgent need for the reform of public service broadcasting in Ireland comes news of a veritable revolt by journalists within RTÉ’s normally quiescent ranks as reported by the Irish Times:

“Almost 50 staff members in RTÉ have written to Director General, Mr. Noel Curran, to express their concern at the “lack of coverage” of Irish language issues in English-language news and current affairs programmes on RTÉ.

The correspondence specifically mentions the manner in which RTÉ News covered the resignation of Seán Ó Cuirreáin as Language Commissioner last December. Ó Cuirreáin, who announced he was stepping down from his role due to a failure to provide adequate services for Irish language speakers, became the first ombudsman since the foundation of the State to resign in protest against government policy.

On the day of his announcement before an Oireachtas committee, RTÉ’s main news bulletins on television covered the resignation with thirty seconds of pictures, accompanied by a voice over from the newsreader.

A spokesperson for RTÉ said the contents of the letter were still being considered by Mr. Curran but pointed to the Director General’s comments on the recent findings of an RTÉ working group on the Irish language which acknowledged the need to improve RTÉ’s services in Irish and set out several policy recommendations with regard to Irish-language broadcasting.”

Given the opaque internal workings of RTÉ (“the Donnybrook Kremlin”) this very public expression of unhappiness by its journalistic staff is surprising to say the least. So we have a choice before us. Either RTÉ becomes an entirely Irish language public service broadcaster leaving English language broadcasting to the private sector (as I argue here, negating the need for a separate TG4) or its assets and funding is split between it and TG4 into two new broadcasting entities. One operating entirely through the medium of English and one entirely through the medium of Irish (which of course is essentially what we have already). The present half-way house is no longer sustainable or justifiable. A rising population of Irish-speaking citizens have every right to demand the same services from the state as their English-speaker peers.

Or perhaps people here agree with the views expressed by the British tabloid TV presenter Noel Edmonds who recently attacked the BBC for providing programming to Scottish-speaking communities in Scotland and Welsh-speaking communities in Wales? From WalesOnline:

“Veteran broadcaster Noel Edmonds has criticised the BBC for spending too much money on the Welsh language.

In an interview, Edmonds said the BBC was “sleepwalking to destruction”, as he explained his hope to buy the corporation along with a consortium of wealthy investors.

He declined to disclose how the schedules might look if he got his way – but pointed to the sums presently spent on the World Service and Welsh-language programming.

“There are 50,000 people speaking Gaelic. Welsh language has been declining over 10 years and the BBC spends £48m on that.”

Edmonds argued only an injection of outside influence could make the broadcaster “relevant to the internet age” and admitted that he did not presently pay for it via the licence fee.”

Perhaps Noel Edmonds is unaware that the Scottish- and Welsh-speaking citizens of Britain also pay their taxes and TV licence fee and are therefore entitled to the same publicly-funded services as their English-speaking compatriots? Or perhaps he is simply of the view that the English language and culture is superior to the several others that share the island of Britain and should therefore take precedence over the rest? Unfortunately there are too many on this island nation who share Edmonds’ view in our own perennial “culture war”.

[ASF: With thanks to Sorley Domhnall and several others for the links]

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.

PSNI OK, LGBT Not OK

Paramilitary police officers of the PSNI get in some training for the St. Patrick's Day parade in New York City

Paramilitary police officers of the PSNI get in some training for the St. Patrick’s Day parade in New York City

The people organising the Saint Patrick’s Day parade in New York City are to allow representatives of the PSNI, the majority-Unionist British paramilitary police force in the north-east of Ireland, to participate in the event. However they are still refusing the organised participation of Irish men and women who happen to be gay, bisexual or transgender. So members of the British PSNI in Ireland are acceptable but members of the Irish LGBT community in Ireland and the United States are not?

Words fail me…

What he said…