While we are certainly right to decry the inherent hibernophobia of mainstream political unionism in Ireland, not to mention the United Kingdom’s continued support for a peculiar form of British ethno-sectarian separatism on this island, we should also be cautious about throwing stones at other people’s glasshouses. The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and its fellow travellers in the Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) may be reprehensible bigots, continuously opposed to the rights of Irish-speakers, or indeed to the very existence of Irish-speakers, but our national and nationalist parties aren’t exactly paragons of Gaelic virtue either.
Despite decades of independence, the nation-state of Ireland has paid little more than lip-service to its own indigenous tongue and has contrived since the 1920s’ to successfully ghettoise the language in the education system. By making Irish simply one more obligatory school subject among several others, successive governments of all backgrounds and philosophies have ensured that the Gaelic tongue has stayed in a state of permanent half-life, neither dead nor alive. Those sparks of community and individual vigour which still exist are isolated and under continuous threat of being extinguished through official indifference or hostility. Even in our national legislature, the ironically-named Oireachtas na hÉireann, the Irish language takes a poor second place to its foreign usurper, English.
Oireachtas committee rooms should be equipped with translation facilities for the Irish language, Green Party deputy leader Catherine Martin has said.
Ms Martin, who is a member of the Joint Committee on Education and Skills, made the call following a committee meeting in Leinster House on Tuesday at which an attendee said he felt his contribution was “diminished” because of the lack of translation services.
Caoimhín Ó hEaghra, general secretary of school patron body An Foras Pátrúnachta, made his comments during a discussion of the Equal Status Act at a meeting of the joint committee.
Following a submission in Irish Mr Ó hEaghra asked if a live translation service was available and whether those present could understand what he had said.
Committee chair Fianna Fáil TD Fiona O’Loughlin apologised for the absence of a translation service…
Speaking in English, Mr Ó hEaghra said “I have been coming into these committees since 2009 … and we have encountered this issue with translation before and I don’t understand why the issue is not addressed.
Mr Ó hEaghra said he felt it was “important” that his presentation would be delivered in Irish.
“Please, engage with whatever officers or whoever is responsible for this and rectify the situation,” Mr Ó hEaghra told the committee.
Ms Martin has written to facilities section of the Houses of the Oireachtas to request that all Committee rooms are equipped with translation facilities.
The Dublin Rathdown TD said the Oireachtas “should be a place where leadership is shown when it comes to promoting and nurturing our national language”.
She said that “such Irish language shortcomings in Leinster House send out the wrong signal and is demoralising for so many people who work tirelessly to promote our native tongue”.
Last month, an expert witness to an Oireachtas committee who chose to give evidence in Irish was forced to use English when it was discovered that the translation system was not in operation.
One would imagine that the Irish language would at least be accorded some priority in the education system, where it has been knowingly sequestered for the last ninety years. But take this news from the regional Westmeath Examiner:
Local Irish language advocates say that they are “very anxious” to advance plans for an Irish-speaking secondary school for Mullingar, despite indications that the Department of Education and Skills is not behind the idea.
Members of Glór an Mhuilinn, the Mullingar committee set up to lobby for the development of a meánscoil lán-Ghaeilge in the town, met last week to discuss the project.
“We’re trying to move it along,” says committee member Matt Nolan, who was heavily involved in the establishment of Gaelscoil an Choillín in Cullion, one of two gaelscoileanna in Mullingar.
However, Mr Nolan said that the patron body of gaelscoileanna in Ireland, An Foras Pátrúnachta na Scoileanna Lán-Ghaeilge, recently met with Department of Education and Skills officials, and were told that the Department has “no plans” to develop another post-primary school serving Mullingar town.
“The population is there, with both Gaelscoil an Mhuilinn and Gaelscoil an Choillín, as well as many parents of children in other national schools in the area who have indicated they would like their children to go to an Irish-speaking secondary school,” Mr Nolan said.
The Department of Education and Skills was contacted last week for an explanation of its position on a Mullingar meánscoil, but as we went to press, a response was still forthcoming.
This is not the first time that we have seen parents being denied the opportunity to give their children an education entirely through the medium of Irish and no doubt it won’t be the last. And that is the problem. Supposedly nationalist politicians naming and shaming their unionist peers for their animosity towards this country’s indigenous language and culture while expressing their own lack of care or interest is rank hypocrisy. If Irish was the supposed billion-euro priority that the anglophone lobby claim, then there would be Irish medium schools in every single village, town and city in the country. That there is not, despite the proven demand for such institutions, tells its own sorry tale.