An Coimisinéir Teanga or the Language Commissioner is a legal officer of the Irish state. His or her role under the Official Languages Act of 2003 is to ensure the equal provision of public services to the nation’s Irish-speaking and English-speaking communities. This partly fulfils the government’s constitutional duty to protect the civil rights of those citizens who use the country’s national and first official language: Irish. A few days ago the person carrying out that role, Seán Ó Cuirreáin, resigned from his office following a decade of combating a culture of anglophone discrimination inside the state. In a speech to an Oireachtas committee the commissioner expressed his concerns about the antipathy to Irish-speaking communities evident throughout the public services and the intentional starving of those communities of government resources.
Given the flurry of media publicity around the resignation one might reasonably suppose that most monolingual English-speaking journalists and opinion writers would be well informed on the subject. However it seems that being informed is one thing, disseminating Hibernophobic propaganda is another. Ian O’Doherty in his regular column for the Irish Independent newspaper takes misinformation to a whole new level:
“…the head of Teanga, one of the main Irish language groups in the country, has resigned in a huff because there aren’t enough civil servants who can speak Irish.
Now, I know that Seán Ó Cuirreáin, as the acting head of a body devoted to the Irish language has every right to be peeved about the lack of a working knowledge of Irish, but that’s not the point.
The point is that, presumably, the only way for his concerns to be allayed would have been for the Government to pour more money down the endless toilet of the Irish language and send more civil servants off on a language training course.
I very much doubt anybody, apart from the few cantankerous souls who stubbornly insist on costing the State money by demanding special accommodations for the language, really cares one way or the other if someone in Spiddal has to use their English name. I don’t mean to sound uncaring or inconsiderate here but . . . no, wait, I do.
…TG4 is by far and away the most inventive and innovative broadcaster on this island.
But I still don’t think it’s the Government’s job to fund it, or any other as Gaeilge boondoggle, for that matter.”
The fact that O’Doherty has little to no understanding of the situation, that he thinks a legally-appointed official of the state is the head of a lobby group called Teanga, say’s it all. Taken with his evident wish to see Irish-speaking citizens being discriminated against by their own government while grudgingly admitting that the Irish language public service broadcaster TG4 is superior to its English language rivals, it is evident that it’s bigotry not reason driving his views. However there is some succour from the wretched bile of the anglophone supremacists as displayed in today’s unexpected editorial from the Irish Times:
“It speaks volumes about the Government’s apparent lack of interest in its own policies towards the Irish language that the State’s first ever Language Commissioner, Seán Ó Cuirreáin, has chosen to resign his post early rather than carry on watching while the Government continues to shirk its obligations towards Irish speakers.
Mr Ó Cuirreáin has been measured and constructive in his duties as Language Commissioner and his concerns for the language are well-merited. His blunt assessment is that the Government’s lack of action in providing services in Irish for the Gaeltacht and adequate capacity in public administration may be seen as “a fudge, a farce or a falsehood”.
It is widely accepted, by both Gaeltacht communities and academics, that the language is in dire straits in its traditional strongholds. It will not survive unless people are given adequate reason and encouragement to speak it. Yet it seems that the Government expects the people of the Gaeltacht to save the language simply because they have just about managed to do so until now.
The truth is that the people of the Gaeltacht cannot keep Irish alive simply by dint of being native speakers. They need and are entitled to services in their own language from their own State. Mr Ó Cuirreáin has rightly noted they have been obliged to use English in their dealings with State agencies and that this should not be allowed to continue. That it has gone on for so long is not only an affront to the people of the Gaeltacht but a damning indictment of so many governments over so many decades.
That there are people in Ireland who wish to speak Irish, both in the Gaeltacht and in urban areas, is not in doubt. That they have rights in this regard too is not in doubt, particularly since the enactment of the Official Languages Act in 2003.
That it takes the resignation of the Language Commissioner to remind the Government about those wishes and rights is simply shameful.”