Killing Irish-Speakers With Kindness

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?

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47 comments

  1. What a depressingly backward and inequitable viewpoint. Of course L1(first language) Irish speakers (and all others) in Ireland need to be able to communicate with the state in Irish and have the right to do so. This is not a waste of time – this is a starting point. Irish people should have the choice to speak and use Irish or English in all public dealings. Is that not what an inclusive society looks like?

    1. What about their communication with the private sector?
      I go to the local grocery store and pub far more often than I deal with any state bodies.

      Do I discriminate against the Irish speakers when I ask them to speak English?

      1. As I’ve said before, Jānis, I believe that the Official Languages Act should be expanded to include the private sector, as with similar legislation in Québec and elsewhere. Of course I ultimately advocate for a constitutional redefinition of the place of the national language in Ireland.

        1. OK, so – if I understand you correctly then most people in Ireland (me and you included) are in fact discriminating against Irish speakers on a daily basis, but they can’t do anything about it because it’s perfectly legal.
          Is that right?

          1. No, you keep on insisting on this ridiculous point and I just cannot understand what point you are trying to prove. If you do not speak Irish, you are not discriminating against anyone if you speak to them in English. If you however insist that Irish speakers do not have the right to speak Irish when dealing with the government or official institutions, you are descriminating.

          2. If you do not speak Irish, you are not discriminating against anyone if you speak to them in English.
            ————————-
            If their preferred language is Irish then yes – I am.
            By demanding to speak English I’m saying that their language is useless in their own country and that we must speak the superior language of the invader like all normal people do.

            The Russians treated my language with utter contempt – they refused to learn it and they told us “Я этот собачий язык не понимаю, говори по человечески!” (I don’t understand this dog language, speak a human language!).

            And now – after all that I’m here in Ireland and I’m helping to kill the Irish language myself.

      2. “Do I discriminate against the Irish speakers when I ask them to speak English?”

        How often have you had to do this? How often, in Ireland, have you had to ask someone to speak to you in English rather than some other language, and what was the other language? Just to get some perspective on this.

        1. I’ve had to ask someone to speak English at least 3 times and the other language was Russian. I’m dead serious.

          1. I can’t imagine how that could have happened, unless you somehow ‘look Russian’ or associate with Russians, neither of which seem probable. Now Polish, I could understand, since you probably ‘look foreign’ and a European foreigner in Ireland is very likely to be Polish. But Russian? Is Ireland being infiltrated by Russians??

            Thinking about this, I wonder when people speak Irish what other languages it is mistaken for?

          2. I don’t ‘look foreign’ – you could not tell me apart from a random Brit or Irishman until I open my mouth.:D
            There are grocery stores in Ireland that sell stuff from the Baltics, Poland and other parts of Eastern Europe.

            I was shopping in one of them and for some reason the cashier decided to address me in Russian. That was really unexpected.

            I hear announcements in Irish every day on Luas and also I’ve seen this:
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No_B%C3%A9arla
            So I would certainly not mistake it for anything else.

    2. Victoria White’s arguments are ultimately so at odds with any genuine wish to see Irish language equality (or growth) that I personally doubt her veracity. People can speak the language but should not expect be able to live through the language? That makes Irish simply a hobby, a weekend or after-work interest. It’s such a misguided idea, so obviously destructive of existing Irish-speaking communities, that claims of loving the language are rendered nonsense. So what if you love Irish? What about the ones who speak it now, and wish their children and grandchildren to speak it in the future? Strip Victoria White’s answer of all the rhetorical twists and turns and it boils down to simply this: speak English!

  2. its the Irish Examiner. its editorial prejudice is strongly anti-irish language. the article itself is just a rant and full of cliché. and of course no anti-gaeilge rant is complete without the promoters/users of the irish language being compared to the taliban (or sometimes the nazis). Fortunately that newspaper’s circulation continues to drop and hopefully it will cease to exist soon.

  3. “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” by that standard, many countries could do away with their native language. It is typical of people of that conviction to fail to associate their identity with their native language, and with it, their country. Often this is to purposefully disassociate themselves from their heritage. They feel almost embarrassed by it and make their disdain for it quite obvious. Some even adopt a bizarre accent when speaking English. It is generally people like that who become very hostile when they overhear Irish being spoken. It appears to remind them of who they are not, which is why they couldn’t care less if someone spoke anything other than Irish. The article makes very clear that the author believes she is English first and puts her languages in the same order. A “part-time Irish woman” who, when she is ready to drop from civilization and spend some time in the Kraal, will speak the language of the “farm animals.”

    1. Only saw your post after posting my own. I’m firmly convinced that a lack of national and personal identity is at the root of antipathy towards use and promotion of our native tongue

    2. And yet when I point out that there are no significant cultural differences the Brits and the Americans or the Brits and English speaking Irish people I get lots of angry responses and downvotes.

      And English speakers who hate the Brits and complain about their colonialism just crack me up.

      1. I suppose you have a small point there. A bit like mine – we see absolutely no differences between the Baltic peoples and Russians. You really are all the same to us.

        Considering your love of Britain and USA, can I ask, why did you decide to land in Ireland? Of course you are more than welcome, Janis, it’s just we find your Greater Russian viewpoint so strange. Must be your colonial upbringing, I guess. We know you do not detect it but we can see it as clear as day.

        1. Even if I don’t know anything else about them, the fact that two nations speak different languages is enough for me to consider them different.
          So in case you don’t know – Latvian, Lithuanian, Estonian (this one is not even Indo-European) and Russian are completely separate languages and they are not mutually intelligible.

          Also note that I specifically excluded Irish speaking Irish people, because it’s obvious that their culture is different from English speaking cultures because they speak a completely different language.

          People who speak the same language are much closer culturally than people who don’t – like that or not.

          1. «People who speak the same language are much closer culturally than people who don’t – like that or not.»

            Following this logic, an English-speaker in India (whose mother tongue is not specified) is very similar to me culturally (an English-speaking French Canadian). Can you see the problem here?

          2. That Indian would be further from you culturally if he didn’t speak English – that’s my point.

            With a new language you acquire a huge amount of culture and a new way of thinking.

      2. you’re wrong Janis, its the English speakers that hate Irish speakers (including yourself i suspect). And if you believe that one aspect of Englishness is better than the Irish equivalent, i.e., Language, then it easy to believe that all aspects of Englishness are superior to all aspects of Irishness. That was the supremacist position held by the Anglo-Normans 900 years ago and its still the supremacist position held by anglophiles like yourself today.

        1. That’s the position that’s held by almost everyone here in Ireland.

          If the Irish language really was super awesome and superior than English then everyone in Ireland would be speaking it – but that’s not happening.

          If you want others to respect you then you must first respect yourself. And if the absolute majority of Ireland’s natives doesn’t care about the Irish language and doesn’t want to revive it then why should I?

          And I don’t hate Irish speakers – I’ve never heard one – if the language disappeared tomorrow it would not affect me in any way.

          1. “If you want others to respect you then you must first respect yourself”. well that’s non sequiter. my point was that hatred of gaelic culture (or any minority/indigenous culture) is a manifestation of intolerance, which is a characteristic of supremacy. And i only suspect you of hatred, but in truth i don’t know anything about you for certain at all. i’m not even certain that you are not an “irish native” yourself.

            “if the language disappeared tomorrow it would not affect me in any way”. wrong!!! there would be less diversity in the world. though, you might like that.

  4. Killig with kindness and damning wih Feint Praise are up there in the top three of insidious and sometimes imperceptible methods of finishing off something The third terrible beauty here is the love that is ” tearing us apart”

    I’m glad……
    I’grateful
    I love
    I believe
    and finally “I don’t accept” -a very handy one at the end when there’s nothing left to expand upon and there is no real reason or excuse to draw upon
    ” 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?”
    Bilingual speakers are entitled to have all their communication with “officialdom” in Irish , and what of that three year old child “raised in isolation” who gets right sided abdominal pain at night? Don’t tell me! I guessed! If he develops peritonitis because of a ruptured appendix while trying to access medical intervention (this could be a language issue or location issue or both) his parents( if you follow Victorias
    rationale) are to blame.The ” few elderly people” …….. was she hoping they had passed on while she was typing ” only love will save us now”

    Wonder. what O Buachalla would think
    Well I think that Victoria may be grateful,
    lucky
    glad all over,
    believe in and ” love” irish ,
    but I wouldn’t want her “display of affection”here campaigning for my cause

  5. When are you going to stop this garrulous tripe and face up to an unhappy fact for you – that 50,000 Irishmen and women, only 50,000, speak Irish fluently – as opposed to 250,000 when the state was founded, and 1.3 million almost all of whom lied they spoke Irish at the last census when all they had was the cupla focal?

    Calling forth a Romanian who takes a case to the court that Irish wasn’t on his drunk driving test – he having not even cupla focal – as the defence of Irish is desperate.

    I’m not unsympathetic but can you not face up to grim reality. Irish is taught miserably in school. That is the be all and end all, and crying hard that journalists are pointing out the grim reality, and how dare they, is not the way to win the day. But the IRA’s way of denying reality and shrieking seems to be the approved method.

    1. So the 187,827 people recorded in the 2011 census speaking Irish on a daily or weekly basis were lying? Or did 137,827 people simply disappear between 2011 and 2015 to leave us with your figure of 50,000 Irish-speakers? Do you also believe that the entirety of the other 1,589,610 people stating that they spoke Irish were also lying in 2011? Even though the figures otherwise reflected accurate demographic changes in Irish society since the last census? Are we to assume that 41.4% of the population are engaged in a vast indigenous conspiracy to impose Irish on a reluctant Anglophone community? 1.77 million conspirators pretending to speak Irish with nary a one of them actually having the capacity to do so?

      Is the Economic and Social Research Institute (ERSI) part of the cloak and dagger shenanigans when its survey finds that 57% of respondents in the 26 Counties have either basic or advanced fluency in Irish, with 13% speaking it weekly and 33% less regularly than that? And those figures were for 2015!

      The point of the piece wasn’t about defending Romanian transgressors or even Gardaí failing to do their job. It was about language rights and people who attack them under the guise of support. Read Eileen’s insightful comment to understand what White’s true intentions were.

      1. Yes – I also think that most of them were lying or exaggerating their language skills.

        Any language that’s actually spoken by ~41% of a country’s population is far more widespread and noticeable than Irish in Ireland.

        If your numbers were true then Irish in Ireland would be even more widespread than Russian in Latvia, but unfortunately that’s not the case.

        1. Why do you say ‘unfortunately’, Jānis? If Irish were widely spoken it would make your life a lot more difficult, indeed you probably wouldn’t have come to Ireland in the first place, or even if you’d wanted to you may not have been able to obtain employment.

          Let’s face it, after many years of tuition most Irish people still can’t speak their own language, so what hope is there for a foreigner? (That’s a joke btw, well, sort of …)

            1. My general point was that if Irish were widely used, then almost any job that involved dealing with the public would effectively be unavailable to foreigners, since they would be unlikely to have any competence in the language. This of course would be no different to the situation in most small European countries that have languages that are not widely studied abroad.

          1. My friends who live in Iceland and Norway are doing just fine. And I’m not afraid of languages – I already speak three and I’m learning two more.

        2. absolutely correct Janis. the 41% represents aspiration as much as ability. Those people no doubt have a certain competence in Irish (they may be able to read/write or understand spoken Irish) but its unlikely that they have verbal fluency. The most reasonable estimates i’ve seen suggest that between 10 and 15 percent of the population have functional fluency in Irish.

          1. But if that many people have functional fluency in Irish then why haven’t I heard a single conversation in Irish?

          1. nobody is necessarily lying. but there is a difference communicating with your mates through Irish in a club in Spain while on holidays and giving a presentation at work through Irish. Its a matter of what is meant when people say they can speak Irish.I don’t recall that the census form asked you to rate your level of Irish (i could be wrong). And it shouldn’t be surprising that a large number of people have reasonable Irish. After all we learn it for 13-14 years at school.

          2. also, you will have noticed that RTE intend to increase their output in Irish at least partly because of the level of demand for their current Irish language content.

  6. I agree with the rest of the article but the smearing by association of Eamon Ryan and the Green Party is a bit cheap I think. The Greens have the most pro-Irish language policies of all the mainstream parties (with the possible exception of Sinn Fein, though that’s hard to pin down) and don’t really deserve to be dragged into this, notwithstanding your own gripes with them. I don’t think it’s ever been the way of Irish politics to have a spouse’s view reflect on the politician they’re married to. I’m sure this woman has her own opinions on things, none of which necessarily represent the views of Ryan or the GP.
    On another point I’m finding it a bit frustrating that all the discussion on your excellent articles on Irish language and Irish identity are being consistently derailed. I don’t mind a counter-argument one bit but at this stage it seems to be the same back and forth in every discussion.

    1. A weblog is an informal forum for chat. This page can have afew derailment s on certain topics and about the time that happens someone will respond to a derailment with an interesting comment or observation which may otherwise unairedThankfully it’s not run like aDāil debate and is way more civilized and polite than comments pages of online media national newspapers
      Am very familiar with Green Party policy on Language because of my own interests and the fact that a close family member is active in Thd Green Party would not hinder me from being critical on the comments of someone like Ms White whatever her background might be She takes the stance of ridicule at the beginning of what I consider to be a very long cheap shot which she feels well entitled to take because she is
      lucky
      glad
      grateful
      loves Irish and just doesn’t get the point about the language act at all
      I can tolerate all the above and knotch it up to a type of ” informed ignorance ” but not when she takes that “post courtcase ” comedy moment so liked by some journalists

    2. @bradhar, in fairness, I have pointed out the strong position of the Greens viz. the Irish language several times before on ASF, contrasting them with the dreadful efforts of supposedly “politically green” parties like FF and SF. The most recent piece was in July.

      It is hardly a smear to point out that Victoria White, a noted eco-atavist and campaigner, is the wife of the Green Party leader and a long-time and very public supporter of the party. Indeed, according to Suzanne McEneaney, in the Dodder Action group, White is a GP member. Those things make her opinions very pertinent and putting them in context is no more smearing than pointing out the political affiliations of other media folk. Or indeed their family connections.

      1. Sorry my other reply was to Eileen not yourself SF.
        I know you’ve pointed those GP language policies out in the past (in fact that’s where I learned of them!). However the close of your piece on Victoria White is two paragraphs on the GP. In those two paragraphs you ask 6 questions which basically ask (is there an implication?) whether the Greens are of one mind with her, for eg. “is he opposed to the Official Languages Act and the Language Commissioner?” You’re not asking those questions from a desire to find out.

        I don’t think you’d take the personal opinions of any other rank and file member of any other party and use them to probe into the intricacies of their party policies.

        1. On the latter point I dispute that. I’ve hammered FG and FF for the views expressed by party members, whether elected or otherwise. I’ve hit the PBP for the negative views of Richard Boyd-Barrett on the Irish language, which he expressed in a personal capacity. I’ve also highlighted disputes over the Irish language I’ve had with “hard left” SP folk who regard it as “tribal” or anathema to developing working-class solidarity or internationalism. I’ve criticised SF for associating with the attacks on Mairia Cahill by SF folk or supporters. In relation to the news media I’ve drawn attention to the relationships between different journalists or their partners, and how that shapes the way we should view their opinions.

          I’m not saying one is defined by one’s partner or spouse, or family or friends, far from it. However White is indelibly associated with the Greens in the public mind, partly though marriage, partly though her own writing and activism. So it’s perfectly legitimate to question where they stand on her views. Especially given who their leader is.

          However I appreciate that you – and in fairness some others – might view things differently. It’s good to get differing opinions on this.

  7. Thanks for that. It’s not that I want the blog to be like a Dáil debate, it’s that I don’t want to lose interest in it.
    I understand the article is a long cheap shot but I don’t know what it has to do with the Green Party, beyond the coincidence of our language loving friend being married to Eamon Ryan.

    An Coimisinéir Teanga, Rónán Ó Domhnaill has responded to the article in question very well i think:
    http://www.irishexaminer.com/viewpoints/analysis/drink-drive-controversy-has-nothing-to-do-with-languages-act-356134.html
    Well worth a read.

  8. Good to see An Coimisinéir engaging in the public debate and correcting the inaccuracies of Ms. White’s bizarre opinion piece.

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