In light of the recent ruling by the courts that the Gardaí failed to follow the law by not producing bilingual results of breathalyser tests given to suspected drink-drivers (despite the fact that the Evidenzer machines used in the tests were programmed to print out result certificates in both English and Irish) the conservative eco-activist and newspaper columnist Victoria White once again takes to the pages of the Irish Examiner to display her supposed affection for the Irish language, an emotion best summed up by the term, “killing with kindness“:
“WILL Mihai Avadenei save the Irish language? Has the Romanian national who could not be convicted of drink driving because breath test results were not given to him in Irish as well as English done us all a mighty turn? Will his case finally convince us that the Official Languages Act (2003) is killing off what’s left of the Irish language?
Why has no voice has been raised at a political level to spell out the idiocy of attempting to revive the Irish language by an Act of Parliament?
Why does no-one tell the plain truth that there is no-one driving a car on our roads who can understand Irish and not English; that there are no monolingual Irish-speakers left in Ireland apart from a few children raised in isolation and possibly a few very elderly people; that nobody is disadvantaged because they can’t communicate with officialdom in Irish; that there is, in fact, no practical need to translate official communications from English into Irish?
Most native speakers of Irish probably find the English versions easier to understand and this is not surprising because they have all been dealing with officialdom through English all their lives.
There have never been any native speakers of Officialdom Irish because officialdom did not speak Irish when it was the mother-tongue of large numbers of our people.
The guardians of “language rights” as prescribed in the Official Languages Act have gone at the language like the Taliban went at Islam and left nothing except lumpen duty and legal threat.
II love Irish. I am grateful that my mother was inspired as a child by a teacher who had been a member of the Gaelic League.
I am grateful for my national school education and a good teacher of Irish at secondary school.
I have done several Irish courses for adults and may one day do a degree. My children were educated through Irish.
I believe in compulsory Irish in our schools at least until Junior Certificate when a wider Irish Studies course could perhaps be developed as an alternative.
Yes, most of the criticism of the Irish language is simple philistinism. But I don’t accept that my criticism of the Official Languages Act comes through ignorance of the language.
Rather it comes through love of the language. And only love will save it now.”
In other words, we can all speak Irish as much as we want, where and when we want, just not in any of the dealings each and every one of us conducts throughout our lives with the departments, agencies and services of the government and state. Then, perforce, we must use English and English alone. Will that mean that Irish-speaking citizens are lesser in the eyes of the law than English-speaking citizens, will be less entitled than their Anglophone peers to the same level of services or respect? Well, of course it does.
However, isn’t that pretty much what we have anyway with the Official Languages Act of 2003, legislation that was initially designed to deliberately define, curtail and restrict the rights of Hibernophones under the constitution? By default the nation-state of Ireland has favoured English-speaking communities over its Irish-speaking ones since the gaining of independence in the 1920s. It is the institutional discrimination towards Hibernophone men, women and children which has denuded the Gaeltachtaí, in effect native reservations (with all the negative connotations that the term carries), of their domestic populations, and which has accelerated the forced demographic movement from one language to another. The necessity of compulsory English remains state policy and the Official Languages Act, as originally envisioned, coupled with token expressions of support for our indigenous tongue, are the smoke and mirrors behind which it operates.
One could be generous and assume that Victoria White, the wife of Éamon Ryan, the former minister for communications, energy and natural resources and current leader of the Green Party, is unaware of all this. One could argue that despite her politicised background and familiarity with the corridors of power, she genuinely believes that denying Irish-speaking citizens some form of legal protection or redress is for their own good. So let us ask her this? Would she be so cavalier, so libertarian, in relation to legislation dealing with environmental protection? Would she repeatedly advocate through her newspaper columns and public pronouncements that there is no requirement for laws or regulations to safeguard our ecological heritage? That people’s innate love and respect for these things would overcome any possible harm that would be inflicted by their absence? That, in fact, individuals and companies would be generous in thought and practice and would not seek to abuse a system of self-regulation?
No, I don’t think so either.
As for the party of her partner, a political organisation which issues official policy statements in the Irish language several times a week (presumably, in White’s view, a pointless exercise), one wonders what their opinions are on the issue of Irish rights? It was a Green Party minister after all who caved into Anglophone intimidation and vandalism in relation to denying indigenous Irish names for towns and villages around the country instead of bastardised colonial “translations”. Does Éamon Ryan, Green Party boss, agree with his wife’s distaste for equality through legislation? Is he opposed to the Official Languages Act and the Language Commissioner? Does he believe that Irish-speaking citizens and communities are ill-deserving of the limited protection that the 2003 regulations brought to the fore?
And finally, is he comfortable with Victoria White’s rhetorical association of Irish-speaking men, women and children with the Taliban and militant Islam, a discriminatory insult towards Hibernophones regularly encountered in the more trollish corners of the internet? When did the sub-racist terminology of the Anglophone extreme become the language of the Anglophone mainstream?