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The 20 Year Strategy For The Irish Language, Year 6

From the “Programme for a Partnership Government“, the recently published agreement underpinning the right-wing minority administration of Fine Gael and various independent TDanna, supported by Fianna Fáil, comes this “commitment” to the rights of Irish-speaking communities and citizens in Ireland:

11. An Ghaeilge
The Irish language is of crucial importance to our heritage and culture. The new Government needs to systematically implement the 20-Year Strategy for the Irish language, increase the number of people using Irish in their daily lives and ensure that Irish becomes a more visible language in today’s society, both as a spoken language and also in areas such as signage and literature.

Among other measures, we will:
* Focus on job creation in the Gaeltacht, through Údarás na Gaeltachta
* Encourage the attendance by children in Irish-medium pre-schools or naíonraí in Gaeltacht areas
* Recognise the importance of the status of Irish as a full working language of the EU institutions and work towards ending the derogation, as circumstances allow
* Increase investment in the Irish language”

The Irish language is not just of crucial importance to our heritage and culture – it is important to the men, women and children who actually speak it. Yet, as always, these people remain invisible to our would-be policy-makers. As for the unimplemented twenty year government programme on our national tongue that would be the original “20 Year Strategy for the Irish language 2010-2030“, announced six years ago with cross-party support from the Oireachtas. Yes, that’s right, in 2016 the political classes are still pledging to begin a strategy supposedly started way back in 2010. The rest of the measures are pretty much at that level of non-commitment, meaningless sound-bites of no significance because no-one, be they Fine Gael, independent or Fianna Fáil, has any intention of implementing them. Or as they might put it: “We will continue to work towards the protection and restoration of the Irish language, and associated rights, as circumstances allow“.




29 comments on “The 20 Year Strategy For The Irish Language, Year 6

  1. Perhaps the most interesting thing about this is the omission of a clause as follows: “Recognise the importance of the status of Irish as a full working language of the STATE institutions and work towards ending the effective monopoly of the English language especially in the Gaeltacht areas!”

    I note also that the include a subsidiary sentence “as circumstances allow” which as everybody, including the dogs in the street, know renders the statement immediately before it inoperative.


    • Yes, I think “as circumstances allow” sums up the entire history of language policies in Ireland. When we were poor we couldn’t afford language rights, when we were rich we had better things to spend the money on, and now we are (relatively) poor we cannot afford language rights again. Rich or poor, the circumstances will never be allowed – or recognised – to exist.

      There is something to be said for those who who took to the GPO and said, lets turn the whole apple-cart upside down.


      • What do you mean by “afford language rights”? You already spend obscene amounts of money on the language. 1 billion euros wasted every year and the language still has only about 40k to 80k speakers. The entire Latvian govt budget is ~7.5 billion euros. If we spent as much on our language every year per speaker we’d have like 500% budget deficit every year. 😀


        • The figure of “€1 billion euros” was invented in 2011 by Edward M. Walsh of the University of Limerick, a well-known critic of the Irish language. It was subsequently taken up by the usual anti-Irish suspects, first as the alleged amount spent on Irish in the education system, until that was proved to be farcical, then as the total amount of state spending on Irish each year. Unfortunately for Myers and co. that has also proved to be utter nonsense. For instance the annual cost of translating government documents into Irish for the last three years has been €450,000 euros. The yearly cost of non-Irish languages is €600,000. Yet we are told by anti-Irish campaigners and newspapers columnists that such costs run into “tens of million of euros” each year.

          Jānis, don’t listen to the Dark Side 😉


          • Where was it proved to be nonsense?
            Translating government docs and teaching the language at schools are completely different things. And those costs indeed run into tens of millions of euros –
            The Minister of State has indicated that a total sum of €44.206 million will be provided to the Department for the year 2016 for the Irish language, Gaeltacht and Islands functions.
            That department alone is planning to waste 44 millions of euros this year and I still have never heard a single conversation in Irish. So what do we get for those 44 millions? That’s my money too btw.


            • 44 milion spread across a dozen Gaeltacht communities, islands and nationally through north-south language bodies and support schemes, including education programmes. In addition the money is allocated to community, tourism and heritage centres. I’m actually quite familiar with it. Some of it is going to the 2010-2030 Strategy, so will be a carry-over, plus big chunk is devoted to capital projects, not language ones per se.


            • If I went to Dublin, or wherever it is you are, and never heard anyone speaking Latvian, would that mean there were no Latvian speakers there? Of course not. I would have to know where to go, where it is that Latvians gather together. Just the same I imagine for Gaelic. In a city you´d have to know where to go and when. In the country you´d have to go to the right region or village etc.

              FWIW I have heard Irish spoken in Ireland and Scots Gaelic spoken in Scotland, spontaneously. Not often and not very recently, but I have heard both. What you have to realise is that when a language is suppressed, or has been in the past, it´s speakers become wary of speaking openly. Even long after outright punishment is stopped, the attitude gets passed on down the generations, probably largely unconsciously. In Scotland this is called ¨The Cringe¨. And Gaelic or course has it´s own cringe within the more widespread ¨Scottish Cringe¨.


          • But it’s possible to hear many other European languages without specifically looking for their speakers in Dublin. If two people can speak French or Polish openly – why can’t two Irish speakers do the same?


            • I may be entirely wrong, but I suspect that attitudes formed under colonialism when the language was looked down upon may have somehow been passed on down the generations. So that rather than speaking the language openly and proudly as befits a independent nation, people are still subconsciously ashamed or embarrassed in some way, so that they´ll only speak Irish in ´safe´ situations.

              Now this is all a bit odd given that Ireland has been free of ¨John Bull´s Tyranny¨ for nearly a century (at least most of Ireland has) and everyone has been taught the language at school, recent immigrants excepted.

              Jānis, presumably this doesn´t happen to the same extent in Eastern Europe? Is it something special about English or about Ireland, or what???


          • No – Latvians definitely don’t speak Russian among themselves just because they’re ashamed of their language. That might happen only in specific circumstances like maybe among gang members or in prisons. (Other prisoners might beat you up if they don’t understand what you’re saying) That’s just a speculation – I haven’t actually been in Latvian prisons, but I’ve heard that Russian is de facto official language there.
            Russian in general is not viewed as the language of art and culture and the like. It’s generally seen as the language of the criminal underworld and also the preferred language for swearing.

            Many however do speak Russian with local Russians if they know the language. I guess that could be called “the Baltic cringe”.


            • “Russian in general is not viewed as the language of art and culture and the like. It’s generally seen as the language of the criminal underworld…”

              I’m not sure what the complete opposite of the cultural cringe is but by Christ, Jānis, you’ve got it in bucket-loads! 😉


          • I’m not saying that we think that every Russian speaker is a criminal.

            I’m just saying that just like the Irish language became associated with poverty and backwardness. The Russian language also has a negative stigma. Almost all criminal slang is comes from Russian & when we swear – we use Russian swear words – that’s a fact.


            • When people swear in Irish these days they inevitably use English words, so I’ll give you that 😉 (like focáil for “fuck” which I’ve only actually heard in conversation once or twice. Why not just a straightforward transliteration as fóc or similar?).


              • Hmm, Cornish-speaking friends would not be impressed, they´d likely say, ¨Py par omgyjoryon!¨ or ¨What a load of wankers¨ 😉


  2. ¨The Irish language is not just of crucial importance to our heritage and culture – it is important to the men, women and children who actually speak it.¨

    Nam biodh sin fìor cha bhios duilgheadas´sam bith ann / It that were true there would be no problem at all.


    • It is important to at least some of its speakers of course. But the problem is that those speakers are almost like the bigfoot. Lots of discussions about them, but I’ve yet to encounter any of them in the wild.


      • That´s funny because I was just reading a short story called (in translation) ¨The Field Trip¨ where the members of a Manx Gaelic class go on an expedition to try to find some actual fluent speakers ¨in the wild¨. Not surprisingly it turns into a pub-crawl 🙂


        • And did they actually find any speakers? Or just said – fuck it – let’s go to the pub! 😀


          • They think they´ve found some in a bar, but it´s very noisy so they´re not sure yet.

            I´m having the same problem, Manx is a pig of a language with random spelling so I´m having to look up lots of words, plus they have the own funny idioms so things don´t always mean what they seem to mean … Just bear with me for a while longer, I think I´ve reached the moment of truth :
            ¨Ta shin reih dy hayrn er gerry daue. She tullagh sheeynt t´ayn. Ta shin neuhickyr, jean ad roie ersooyl …¨ Which probably means, ¨We decide to get closer to them. There´s so much noise here. We´re unsure, will they run away …¨ (And you thought Irish was incomprehensible!)

            As it happens I was once in a similar situation when I was visiting a friend in the Isle of Mann. By coincidence there was some sort of Celtic event going on, but before I could get close enough to the Manx speakers I was spotted by someone who knew me from Cornwall and I couldn´t shake him off. It was very annoying!


  3. There are about 77, 000 speakers of Irish who use Irish daily outside the education system. That’s obviously a very small percentage of a population of over 4 million, but it is a not insignificant achievement that Irish survives to the present day in spite of hundreds of years of colonialist aggression, the genocidal act that is commonly called the “famine”, and the austerity measures foisted on Irish-speaking communities in recent years.

    I have been to Dublin more times that I can count and can only think of one occasion where I overheard strangers speaking Irish in public – two young women from Donegal who were beside me on the Luas over a decade ago. But despite this, I speak only Irish almost every time I am in Dublin, visiting friends or attending events. As pointed out by Marconatrix, you just need to know where to go and/or already be part of Irish-speaking networks – and there are plenty of these in Dublin.

    There are also still communities where the majority of people speak Irish the majority of the time. Where I am at the moment, all the neighbours for several miles around speak Irish to each other as a matter of course. These communities are under severe pressure, however, and the contemptible disregard detailed in the above article is doing nothing to help.

    I think it’s also worth pointing out that the 20 year strategy is such a weak document (it’s a greatly watered down version of the original draft written by language planning experts) that even if it was implemented in full, it’s debatable how much of an effect it would have. But of course the Saorstát can’t even manage that much for its “first offical language”.

    Another question to ask yourself, Jānis, is whether you would recognise Irish amidst the hustle and bustle of Dublin even if you did walk past a group of speakers? I don’t know about you, but I think for a lot of people the answer is no.

    If you ask most Irish people can they speak Irish, the answer is that – beyond a few trivialities – they can’t. But as a result of our history of colonisation (which decimated a language that had over 4 million speakers in the mid-1800s) – and the fight back against it, Irish is seen as an important badge of national identity, albeit in a mostly tokenistic way.

    The Irish language revival movement was key to inspiring the 1916 rising. As one of its leaders, Pádraig Mac Piarais, put it “I have said again and again that the Irish Revolution started when Conradh na Gaeilge was formed”. Largely as a result of this history of repression and resistance, the public supports Irish. There is decades of survey evidence demonstrating widespread public support for expenditure on Irish, its status in the education system etc.

    This “vague goodwill” only translates into actual use for a small minority, of course, but I (and many others) nonetheless think that Irish is still worth preserving – both as our unique part of global linguistic diversity (just as I believe we should protect ecological diversity, even if I personally never see a panda or a blue whale), and also as part of a process of de-colonisation that still has a long, long way to go.


    • So Ben, I think you´ve put your finger on the paradox here.

      If there is widespread public support how come parents don´t encourage the schools to teach the language effectively and don´t support their kids in learning it, even if they don´t speak it themselves? Why did it take decades (?) before the gaelscolanna movement got started and why isn´t there much greater pressure to expand it? Why when all´s said and done is there so much dependence on the state. If there´s widespread support it should be possible to raise the necessary funding voluntarily from the public. Not everyone is rich, but some folk are, and if enough people contributed just a few quid it would soon add up.

      Perhaps the state involvement is counterproductive in some perverse way? Making Irish ´official´ makes it harder to see it as a rebel cause, it´s just another part of the boring old system (yawn!) Dunno, I´m not Irish so I suppose it´s none of my bloody business 🙂


      • There are a few inter-related, and almost contradictory points to be considered here, and I think you definitely touched on a few of them there Marconatrix. I would contend that primarily it has to do with the symbolic function of Irish as an identity marker – or, more to the point, how it isn’t a sufficiently important one for most Irish people.

        As I said, the average Irish person’s attitude to Irish is one of “vague goodwill” – they want Irish to survive, want their kids to get some knowledge of it, and are generally happy it’s visible on signposts, government documents, etc. But that much is sufficient to remind them that we’re not just “Irelandshire” – they don’t need to actually put all the effort in to actually learn to speak it to in order to be Irish.

        As Irish identity has been so fully realised through English for the vast majority of the population for over a hundred years, with all sorts of things other than the language functioning as sufficiently strong markers of identity (music, GAA, dance – even Hiberno-English), people don’t feel the need to actually SPEAK the language in order to prove their Irishness, either to themselves or anyone else. I think a good example of this is the kids who go through the Gaelscoileanna, finish as competent Irish speakers, and then never speak Irish again – or even after the school day finishes. If Irish was important enough to them, they’d surely make more of an effort.

        Other factors come into it – being politically independent (to some vague degree anyway…) is not least among them. That’s not to say I think the language would be better off if the Free State had never been founded – I’d say that would just have left Irish in the sort of position Scottish Gaelic is now.

        You can see the importance of Irish as a part of an oppositional, anti-colonialist identity in Belfast, for instance, where learners of Irish built a whole street of Irish speaking houses from the ruins of bombed out shells that the occupation forces razed. But that’s a fundamental trait of what war does I guess, polarises identities and hardens ideologies – it’s been a long time since we had ideological commitment like that on a wide-scale in the Republic.

        This is totally anecdotal, but my experience of people who went through Gaelscoileanna in the North is that they have much better Irish than those in the republic. I don’t think this is a coincidence – Irish just has more symbolic value to (at least some) people there.

        For the majority of the people in the Republic, there’s no need to show their identity so strongly. The fact is that in 120 years since the revival movement all we’ve managed to do is slow down the decline. We haven’t even managed to make one street in Daingean Irish speaking, not to mind anywhere else.

        I think it’s also always worth recalling that this “unprecented growth in the Gaelscoileanna” that we always hear of in the media is nothing of the sort. In the 1930s 50% of schools were teaching entirely or half of the school day through Irish. Today it’s 6% – very slightly up on the 1970s, partly as people become aware of the benefits of bilingualism. From what I understand of it, the decline from the 1940s was in no small part to the opposition of the public and the teachers.


    • Very good points, Ben. I shall probably add your comment as a post to the blog, if you don’t mind? It deserves a wider audience.


  4. Á muise a Shionnaigh, ba mhór an onóir dhom é! 😀

    Caith ríomhphost chugam más mian leat ar dtús, d’fhéadfainn eagar níos fearr a chur air, dá mba mhian leat é.


    • Bu mhath leibh leudaich beagan air na sgrìobh sibh mar thà 🙂


      • Chan ann tric a tha mi air Gaeilge, Gàidhlig agus Gaelg a fhaicinn ann an aon còmhradh àite sam bith air loidhne – ta yindyssagh dy jaroo! 😀 An Panghaelachas Abú!


        • Gus am biodh thu a´ dol as do chiall …
          (Tha mi a’ sgriobhadh ´sa Ghàidhlig o chionn nach eil móran Gaeilge agamsa, ged a tha mi ´ga thuigsinn … uaireanan có dhiù …)


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