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Irish-Speakers Are Second-Class Europeans

Ireland in chains
Liadh Ní Riada MEP

In May of 2014 the Sinn Féin member and Irish rights campaigner Liadh Ní Riada was elected to the European Parliament with the promise to seek full legal equality for Irish-speaking citizens of the EU. Since that time the daughter of the renowned composer and musician Seán Ó Riada has led her party’s fight to place our indigenous language on the same footing as the other national languages of the European Union. In this struggle she and her colleagues have been vociferously opposed by the elected representatives and officials of the establishment parties in Ireland, particularly the openly antipathetic MEPs of Fine Gael and Labour, who have sought to maintain the Irish language’s inferior position inside the institutions of the EU (the so-called “derogation” on Irish translations and translators which was renewed again until 2017 at the behest of the governing FG – Lab coalition in Dublin).

On March 2nd Liadh Ní Riada began a “language strike” in the European Parliament to protest the second-class status afforded to Irish-speakers, explaining well beforehand that:

“This means I will only speak Irish in my work with the European Institutions as a protest against the derogation. My aim is to draw attention to derogation and to encourage the Irish Language community and the Irish people in general to put pressure on the Government to remedy the situation.

It saddens me that as a public representative, an Irish person, and a woman from the Gaeltacht who grew up with Irish, that I cannot use my own language as I go about my work. It angers me when I sit in Parliament and I am told at the beginning of each meeting that an interpretation service is available in each language. Of course Irish is excluded and ignored.”

During a joint meeting of Budgets and Economic and Monetary Affairs committees on March 2 Ní Riada spoke in Irish, being interrupted almost immediately solely because she was speaking in her mother tongue and not “another language”. After the meeting the MEP criticised her treatment.

“It was inadmissible what happened in the committee today. I contacted the committee secretariat last week to inform them of the strike. I explained that I was doing it in protest against the language derogation that is currently in place and if they were not willing to provide interpreting that my political advisor would be able to do so on my behalf. I was not allowed to finish my point and this is totally unfair considering the fact that I was speaking in official working language of the EU.”

It is bizarre that the current Irish government – like its predecessors – wishes to keep its own national and first official language legally inferior to that of every other national language of the European Union. Even rejecting the opportunity to create up to 200 jobs for Irish-speaking EU citizens in the process. We truly are a colony.

15 comments on “Irish-Speakers Are Second-Class Europeans

  1. Demolinguist

    There is certainly antipathy for Irish, but it’s also a reflection of the weakness of the language. I also wonder if having 150-200 very learned and well educated Irish-speakers exported to Brussels would actually weaken Irish at home. Is it a case of misplaced priorities? Every fluent speaker is important to a lesser used language like Irish.


    • Dáithí Mac Cárthaigh

      You are talking about graduates, who if they don’t find work through Irish, will most likely lose their fluency. The more high-end work available through Irish, the better it is for the language.
      These people will also return to Ireland at some stage and contribute their skill to the Irish speaking community having become a part thereof.


  2. ar an sliabh

    Proud to be a second-class European after having been a fourth-class American. Moving on up!


    • It’s up to you – Irish speakers to give yourself the 1st-class treatment in this case. No one else is going to do that for you.

      How come that Latvian language is not derogated?

      I also don’t understand why she is inconveniencing other MEPs at the EP by speaking Irish and knowing very well that they will not understand it. It’s not their obligation to do so.

      The EU is not at fault here – the Irish nation is.

      Other countries have no problems providing the necessary interpreters and translators – only Ireland is unable to do so.


      • ar an sliabh

        I have to say, you are right, no one else will. Looks like you are not the only one thinking that way, more Irish speakers then ever are actually rising to the occasion, and, although by a small amount, the number of speakers is rising measurably for the first time in many years. The Irish nation is actually slowly moving in a positive direction regarding Irish. I am hoping it will last. Sometimes you just have to cause inconvenience to gain a little publicity.


        • But other Europeans are not at fault here.
          That’s an Ireland’s internal issue.
          We have no obligation to save your language if you don’t want to do it yourselves.

          So other MEPs have every right to interrupt her and ask her to speak a language that others can understand until Ireland sorts its own mess out and provides the necessary translators.


  3. ar an sliabh

    Good to see this, is breá liom.


  4. I find it very hard to understand what the Irish state thinks it can gain from this attitude. Making themselves look second class, “not a proper nation”, in European eyes. Having managed to have their language recognised by the EU they then refuse to support it? Crazy! You just make yourselves an international laughing stock rather than pointing out that Ireland is not just an extension of the UK.


    • To support it means to hire people who speak Irish and at least one other EU official language more than perfectly, because realtime interpretation is no mean feat.

      It’s quite challenging to find such people in a country of monoglots who suck at foreign languages.


      • I agree it’s a very special skill, but how many people are actually required by the EP? Normally real-time interpreters only translate *into* their native language, so for Latvian>English, say, you’d need to find native English speakers with excellent Latvian, rather few I imagine, maybe the children of emigrants? OTOH every Irish speaker is for all practical purposes also a native English speaker. So Irish>English interpretation shouldn’t be too big a problem, given aptitude and proper training.


        • If it wasn’t a big problem then Irish would not be derogated.


          • Afaik, Scots Gaelic interpretation is provided in the Scottish parliament wherever required, although the authorities need prior notice. Here’s an old report from 2000 when it was still a new idea. Note :

            “George Reid MSP, the deputy presiding officer who will oversee the debate, points out the cost of being bilingual is tiny, less than 0.000001% of the price of the Scottish parliament. He believes there will be no difficulty with the technical facilities needed for translation. “From the very start the parliament has had earphones and can work on a bi-lingual basis’.”

            So it shouldn’t be any problem for a much larger institution like the EP.


            The first e.g. I turned up, confusing because both the original and the interpretation can be heard together, but it does demonstrate that there is no basic problem.


          • The EP has no problems with technical facilities, Marconatrix.
            It already treats all the other languages equally.

            Ireland has problems with providing the necessary translators and interpreters. And that’s because the Irish don’t care about their “1st official and national” language.


    • Chuir mi m’ainm ris 🙂

      Looking at the reasons people give for supporting this petition (almost 1000 at the time), I found it interesting that the majority of them were given in Irish and very few were the cliches. So where are all these Irish speakers hiding?


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