Over the last few weeks I have been receiving unusually frequent and comprehensive PR releases from the Green Party’s press office, sometimes on an almost daily basis. What makes the emails so different in the context of party politics in Ireland is the language they are written in: namely the Irish language. Press statements from our other parties are almost exclusively in the English language, including from supposed Hibernophone champions like Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil. On the rare occasions where Irish is used it is normally found in a two or three line summary of the fuller English text. What’s more in the case of Greens’ the emailed press releases are well written, disdaining the “dumbed-down Irish” I have seen employed by some groups in their media dealings.
My antipathy to the Green Party is well known to regular ASF readers. As a former GP voter I have yet to forgive the party’s avaricious lurch to the right upon entering office with Fainna Fáil and the rump Progressive Democrats in the fiscally and morally atrocious tripartite coalition government of 2007-2011. Think the desecration of Teamhair na Rí, the appeasement of Anglophone bullying in relation to An Daingean and other Gaeltacht names, the Lisbon votes, the Shell to Sea sell-out, and perhaps the worse sins of all during the death throes of the self-devouring Celtic Tiger. The Greens have yet to earn back my trust, and the present leadership is tarnished with its own history. Until the party returns to the progressive left or centre-left – and officially recognises the grievous mistakes of the past – I can’t see my enthusiasm for it growing. However it would be churlish not to recognise that on the issue of Irish rights the Green Party is well ahead of its rivals, and has been – notable failures aside – for many years.
From the Irish Times:
“The Irish language could be all but extinct in a generation if remedial action is not taken, the Green Party has warned. The party last night launched a new policy paper on the language in Dublin, along with a new bilingual website in which it emphasised its full title, Green Party Comhaontas Glas.
Party leader Eamon Ryan referred to the recent report, written by Conchúr Ó Giollagáin, which showed that the decline of the language as a living and spoken tongue was worse than had been previously thought.
“In 2010 we contributed to a 20-year plan to preserve and promote the Irish language – the Government has ignored this. We need to change the way we treat our language. It is an important part of our cultural heritage,” he said.
The chairman of the party’s Irish language group, Seán Ó Buachalla, said the party had introduced a language charter in 2014. He criticised the Government, saying they had put reform of the Official Languages Act on the long finger.”
Meanwhile the wilful destruction of the Irish language and the community that speaks or identifies with it receives further overseas’ attention, via a lengthy report by Anna Hoffman in the Huffington Post:
“One of Ireland’s most prized cultural components is at risk of being taken from the Irish people.
Considered “definitely endangered” by the UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger, the Irish language is in a dire state. Even though learning Irish is required in all schools across the nation, only 1.8 percent of its population speak Irish daily, and only 40.6 percent say they have the ability to speak the language.
“There is no situation globally which is comparable to the cultural situation in Ireland,” said Cuan Ó Seireadáin, communications officer at Conradh na Gaeilge.
Conradh na Gaeilge is a non-profit organization that works to promote the legal and cultural status of the Irish language both in Ireland and abroad. The organization’s primary mission is to reinstate Irish as Ireland’s primary language.
The decline of the Irish language was not gradual and not long ago, said Ó Seireadáin. For the majority of time under British rule the Irish language was still frequently used, however English was the official language, especially for legal, administrative and political affairs. This lowered the status of the Irish language, and the working class population who most often used it was eventually diminished by emigration and the Great Famine in the 1800s. The Irish language never fully recovered.
In Ireland’s constitution Irish is given the status of the first and official language of the nation. Nearly 100 years later, English is clearly still the dominant language.
Cian Mac Cárthaigh, a station manager at Raidió na Life, an Irish-language station in Dublin, said the Irish government tends to simply give the language lip service, throwing money at the problem without any proper amount of planning.
A community group started Raidió na Life to create a cultural service for the community and raise both awareness and enthusiasm for Irish along the way. Most of the staff— three paid workers and upwards of 150 volunteers—comes from the community.
“If I hadn’t found out about Raidió na Life, I probably wouldn’t be able to speak Irish anymore,” said Mac Cárthaigh.
Mac Cárthaigh learned to speak Irish while attending a Gaelscoil for primary school. When he later ended up attending an English-speaking secondary school, he found there was absolutely nowhere for him to speak Irish outside of the classroom.
Mac Cárthaigh says having a community to speak Irish with is crucial for the strength of the language, especially among those still learning to speak it. If children don’t have opportunities to speak Irish outside of the classroom, they will always just see it as a language only for the classroom.
“They’d like to have you to think it’s the national language, and they spent all this money on the façade, but they won’t actually put any substance behind what they’re trying to do” said Mac Cárthaigh.
Aoife Crawford, the acting Irish language officer at Trinity College in Dublin, said she finds these types of issues with government offices to be a vicious circle. Irish speakers don’t ask for the services because they know they either don’t exist or it is simply quicker to speak English. The offices say there is no demand for the services because nobody ever asks.
…recent studies have shown that these government initiatives may actually do more harm than good. A report from Raidió Teilifís Éireann, a public-service media organization in Ireland, showed that children in the Gaeltacht, whose home language is exclusively Irish, actually leave school with stronger English than Irish.
“They (the government) seem to want to get rid of us Irish speakers,” said Angela Connolly, a native Irish speaker from Inis Mór, an island on the west coast of Ireland which is part of the Gaeltacht.
Ó Seireadáin says part of the issue is the government’s “béal grá,” which literally translates to “mouth love,” meaning someone who talks positively but has no actions to back up their words.
Some Irish speakers say they are criticized for learning a “dead language,” but the language is very much alive for citizens, such as those in the Gaeltacht, who are raised with the language and may not be able to fully express themselves in English.
In February 2014, at an Irish language rights march and protest in Dublin, Brenda Ní Ghairbhí, a manager at Seachtain na Gaeilge (Irish Language Week), remembers a speech given by a woman who was raising all of her children with Irish. As this woman shared her experience of visiting a doctor’s office, she became very emotional, recalling how her children could not communicate with their doctor because he had no Irish and they had no English. Experiences like these illustrate just some of the frustration and marginalization that can exist when proper services are not provided for those in the minority.
Members of the Irish language community do not say they speak Irish. Instead, they say they have Irish.
…What was nearly completely taken away from them years ago is once again at risk of slipping through a generation’s hands.”
As I have said before, the Irish language is not dying, the Irish language is being killed.