So you think you live in an Ireland of equals? Think again. From Gaelport:

“My name is Niamh Ní Chadla and I am an ordinary girl, working and studying in Dublin, paying my taxes like everyone else. My passport had to be renewed  last week and I decided to make it into a small research project to see how the might of the public service would deal with me, an Irish speaker on a daily basis.

As a student of  Irish and, I chose to speak Irish for most of the day. I knew the Official Languages Act afforded some rights to Irish speakers and I knew that both the Gardaí and the Department of Foreign Affairs came within the scope of the Act.  So passports and forms should be available in both languages, and I was hopeful I would get customer service in Irish also.

But would a fluent Irish speaker from Tallaght in Dublin, be afforded the same rights as an English  speaker on an everyday basis?

Firstly I had to visit the Garda Station in Dundrum, Co Dublin and the objectives that I had were:

1. To get the Irish version of the passport application form
2. To get direction from the Garda as to how to fill the form out correctly
3. To get my form stamped and signed by a Garda

In Irish, of course.

When I walked into the Garda Station, I asked the Garda at the desk if he had any Irish, he said ‘not really’, so I asked him if there was anyone else who he could get for me because I wanted to do my business through Irish. He said that there wasn’t and reluctantly said ‘I’ll give it a bash then’.

The conversation wasn’t very successful with the Garda refusing to speak to me in Irish while I refused  to speak to the Garda in English. It was a disaster of a conversation but very amusing to everyone else who was listening and I only got more annoyed when I spotted that they didn’t have an Irish language version of the passport application form either.

Although the Garda understood most of what I was saying he was visibly frustrated and angry and decided to abandon dealing with me while I was filling out the form. A different Garda came to me, who understood less Irish than the first and eventually, I decided to leave my questions unanswered and just take the signature that I needed from him.

I too left the Garda station angry due to the hostility of the Garda and the lack of help I received. Not only did I find that the Gardaí were unwilling to speak Irish but they were angry that I knew English and chose not to use it.

Passport Office
My trip to the Passport Office however, was much more successful. I walked in and said to the young girl behind the counter that I wanted to do my business in Irish. She replied “Are you speaking’ Irish, yeah? Oh my God, fair play to you, hang on and I’ll go get someone now.”

I was waiting for maybe five minutes for the woman and when she came up to me, she was friendly, helpful and more than happy to go through the process in Irish. We managed to get through everything and she informed me that I needed two documents with my Irish name on them, that I have received within the last 2 years and then my Irish name will be printed on my passport.

I felt secure that I received the same high standard of service through Irish as I would have received through English but I was astounded when the woman told me that I was the second person in three years to ask for service through Irish.

I was utterly delighted that I could do my business in the Irish language. I  may have had to wait an extra few minutes for the service but I didn’t mind at all, and it was the experience and service that I wanted to receive while practising my rights.”

Even the smallest of gestures can take real courage. And every revolution has to begin somewhere.

5 comments on “Ag Troid Ar Ais

  1. This reminds me of a series which was on S4C a few years ago, ‘Popeth yn Gymraeg’ (Everything in Welsh – which was also a popular Welsh Language Society slogan in the 1960s). I believe there was a similar series in Irish. The protagonist went around Wales speaking only Welsh to everyone.

    Although making a serious point, it was done in a quite light hearted way to make the point that many people could converse or just get by and understand basic Welsh.

    http://www.s4c.co.uk/popethyngymraeg/e_index.shtml

    There’s a DVD of the series which I believe is on sale at http://www.gwales.com

    • Yes, the two Irish series were No Béarla, in which journalist/film-maker Manchán Magan travelled around the country doing something very similar: speaking in Irish. Series I (2007) showed very little use of the language by the general public and largely negative or bigoted reactions. However it was later claimed that the encounters with hostile or misunderstanding English-speakers were slightly exaggerated for TV purposes. Series II (2008) was somewhat better, and certainly more informative.

      However both did show in a fairly realistic way how poorly Irish-speakers are treated if they speak the Irish language – in the Irish nation. Well worth watching and probably still relevant.

      Magan at one stage was fairly convinced that we were in the death throes of the Irish language and it wouldn’t survive as a community tongue beyond another 50 years. I don’t know if that view has changed though he still regularly produces and presents stuff for Irish TV.

  2. Fair play to Niamh. I wasn’t so lucky on the phone, trying to get information from the Household Charge hotline. The guy said “I don’t speak Irish. I’ve nothing more to say to you”, as I was speaking in Irish to him, and he hung up on me.

    Actually, that was the second time I spoke Irish to that office on the phone. The first time, the woman was more accommodating, and got their “Irish speaker” on the phone to me.

  3. Eoin, that could well be a metaphor for the State in general:

    “I don’t speak Irish. I’ve nothing more to say to you”! 😉

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