At the start of the year Caoimhín de Barra, the Assistant Professor for Irish History and Culture at Drew University, New Jersey, published a twenty-five minute film called An Bhfuil Tú Dáiríre? in response to a video documentary created by the journalist, Eoin Butler. The latter production, An Bhfuil Cead Agam?, offered a contentious examination of Irish language rights in modern Ireland, taking a largely regressive position which the American-based academic countered in some detail (my own criticism of Butler’s controversial video can be read here).
Caoimhín de Barra has followed up on his film with the guest article published below, responding directly to Eoin Butler’s defence of his claims about Irish education spending and so on.
(As always, an Sionnach Fionn offers the right of reply for all published pieces.)
Also, apologies for using clips of your video without your permission. I have to plead ignorance here – it was the first time I ever made a video, and I simply didn’t know I needed permission to use parts of your video. I was just trying to be as accurate as possible in putting forward your arguments. I didn’t want to misrepresent what you said or take it out of context. You know, the way some videos on YouTube do that?
I heard you were boasting on Twitter that you could beat my arguments “to death with a teaspoon.” But when I read your response my first thought was “uh….that is it????”. I think you have done a disservice to teaspoons, Eoin.
The funniest thing about your reaction to my video was to hear you complain about how long it is. Is a grown man really whining about having to watch a 25 minute video? Granted, given the debatable research which went into your own production, having to listen to 25 minutes of facts must have seemed like a grueling mental and physical task. You must have felt like Sisyphus. Or maybe you see yourself as a second coming of Gandhi, selflessly enduring the torture of watching 1554 seconds of a video to bring the truth to the people of Ireland?
Of course, do you know who is to blame for the video being so long? Why, you of course! As your video shows, it only takes a couple of seconds to say something that isn’t accurate. Fact-checking these things and presenting evidence to show how misleading your points were takes up time.
However, I don’t want to overtax your faculties with my response, so I have broken it down into sections. Why don’t you just read one at a time, take a few days to rest to overcome the strain, and then come back again and read the next section?
(PS When you put out your “longer” documentary, I hope it doesn’t end up being 25 minutes long!).
Eoin, you seem very offended that I could question your journalistic integrity.
You know, I teach at a university, and one of the less fun parts of the job is that every term, I usually catch one or two students being careless with their studies or research.
And guess what their reaction is? Usually, the exact same as yours – feigned outrage that someone could ever question their “integrity,” sometimes followed by vague threats of legal action.
So, if you think I am going to be impressed by your strong words, you are badly mistaken. I deal with that all the time from people who have made mistakes.
Let me be clear – I am very definitely questioning your publicly stated claims not your personal integrity or honesty.
The main reason is your changing story about that road sign. You said you never saw the two other road signs. Do I think people could miss those road signs when driving around? Sure. Do I think people would miss them if they got out 50 feet away to video a scene where they make a big point about road signs in the area? No.
And do I think people could look around for those signs and not see them? No, definitely not. I don’t think anyone could believe that. But that is exactly what you claimed in the tweet shown below.
The other interesting thing is that when you got round to acknowledging that there was another sign there, your position shifted. No mention in this blog post that you “checked” for other signs – now it was the case that you simply missed them.
And of course, you also changed your mind about not having a problem with the Irish language sign if there had been a child crossing symbol somewhere else. In the Tweet, you said you wouldn’t have objected – but in your blog, you now insisted that you would still have kept it in the documentary, because the sign was still “criminally stupid” and that you were right all along.
Talk about confusion.
The two reasons you objected to Irish documents being translated in the EU were, (1) it involved inventing words and (2) nobody read the translations. My point was simple – this applies to most of the other languages that are used for translations. So, you need a better argument that that.
I made my video in English because it was a response to your video. Which was in English. If I am trying to stop misinformation about Irish spreading among monoglot English speakers, doesn’t it make sense to use English?
As for the road signs – if your argument was that there was some safety crisis because of that sign, then you should have looked at what the standard signage situation is around the country. I have found that it varies a bit, but the most common one is to have two “children-crossing ahead” signs, without any text in any language. If you had bothered to do any research on that, you would have realized that the school in the Gaeltacht simply got an extra sign in Irish. Pointless tokenism?
People might feel that way. A safety hazard? Come off the stage.
I understand the point you are trying to make about safety signs being in the majority language – but symbols are simply better than text. I live in New Jersey and in the schools around here, the set-up is the exact same – yellow signs with children crossing symbols – and no words. So if you want to make a campaign about how these signs should all have text, go right ahead – but that doesn’t change the fact that that school in the Gaeltacht is not at any greater risk for an accident than any other school in the country.
Corp agus Anam
Obviously the point went over your head. I didn’t disagree that the show was based on an invented location – in fact I said you were right. The point was that this just showed how partisan some of your arguments were, despite the fact that you tried to present yourself as an honest broker trying to have a rational conversation.
I suppose your waffle about OJ Simpson is an effort to muddy the waters around the fact that you got caught out on this point as well.
On the exchange between Enda Kenny and Mick Wallace, either you didn’t do the research adequately and didn’t know what actually happened, or you misunderstood what happened. Whichever one it was, it doesn’t exactly suggest stellar work, does it?
Another point and another position switch from Eoin. Of course, now you tell us that the story of Hebrew was not exactly the one you told us in your video.
By the time the Israeli state came into existence, there were thousands of second and third generations speakers of Hebrew – beginning from a starting point of zero native speakers in 1870. That is what we call a “revival.” Hebrew speakers created Israel, not the other way around.
You can do some reading on it if you like. Jack Fellman wrote a book called The Revival of a Classical Tongue, or Muiris Ó Laoire has written Athbheochan don hEabhraise: Ceacht don Ghaeilge?. Now I have to warn you – it will take longer than 25 minutes to read both – but if you do get through them, you will see how these books about the Hebrew revival don’t mention the state of Israel – because reviving Hebrew had nothing to do with Israel. Did the state encourage its new citizens to learn Hebrew – sure – like every state encourages immigrants to learn the language – but that is not reviving it.
I also notice that you seem to have dropped your claim that Hebrew was revived out of necessity. That is good to see, because you were completely wrong on that point as well.
The point still stands – you can’t give us an accurate figure for how much is spent on Irish.
It’s funny you included the EU figure in your response. I decided not to include it in my video (heaven forbid we might have hit 26 minutes) but I actually used it in a talk I gave in Bundoran about your video in January. So if you think the EU translation costs save your argument, you are wrong.
You are correct about the EU hiring translators. But as you note, that process only began last year. So is it evidence of future spending? Maybe. Brexit will probably mean that we have to switch our official EU language from Irish to English. But past spending? No. So that doesn’t help the claim you were making at all.
Furthermore, if they eventually do get to 180 translators being paid €52,000, that comes to a total of about €9.5 million. So riddle me this – if a massive organization like the EU will be able to translate all their documents into Irish and will do so for under €10 million a year, why would our government, with a much smaller number of documents to translate, need to spend at least twice (tens of millions you said, remember) as much in translation costs? The figures don’t add up, no matter what way you slice them.
Total Cost of Irish Spending
Again, you shift your position. Now Ed Walsh’s figure is “imperfect” or “not especially sophisticated.” These are pretty generous assessments of that figure (try “completely wrong“) but since your entire argument that the state spends “mind-boggling” amounts of money rests on it, I suppose you have no choice but to defend it to the end.
Firstly, you say that I made a “defence of mandatory Irish.” Where did I do that? My question was whether the figure of €1.2 billion was correct? Just because I think that figure is nonsense has nothing to do with my opinion on obligatory Irish. I am sure there are many people who disagree with required Irish teaching but who agree that the €1.2 billion claim is pure fantasy. You are conflating two different arguments there. I have zero problem with anyone who wants to raise questions about our national education system and what it focuses on, including what role Irish should have in it. I am not denying that the time spent on teaching Irish in our schools is the biggest investment the state makes in the Irish language.
But time spent in our education system is not the same thing as money spent. I know that isn’t very convenient for the argument you are trying to make, but it is a fact. You admit that Ed Walsh’s figure is “imperfect” but can’t give us a more accurate number – because there isn’t one.
The Garda budget is €1.4 billion (by the way, the notion that we spend almost the exact same sum of money on policing our state as we do teaching Irish should have been the first warning that the Irish number was nonsense). Let’s say 20% of Garda resources are dedicated to dealing with crime connected to cannabis. People could say that we could save €280 million a year if we legalized cannabis – but we would all know that figure is not true. Garda time would just be spent on something else.
The proof of how misleading Walsh’s number was lies in the fact that you yourself fell for it. In your video, you said that according to Dr. Ed Walsh, “The government currently spends about €1.2 billion per annum supporting the language through education, the media, various government quangos and government bureaucracy.”
Of course, this isn’t what Ed Walsh said – he was specifically talking about time spent teaching Irish. The point is that when you read Ed Walsh’s claim that we spend €1.2 billion a year, you assumed that this referred to money that was actually set aside and spent on Irish. That is why you assumed it included money that we actually do spend on Irish, like the media (TG4 & RnaG), government quangos (like the Department of the Gaeltacht) and government bureaucracy (translations). Just as you were misled Eoin, so are many Irish people. There is no technicality – most Irish people hear that figure and think the money should be spent on something else – but it is money that doesn’t exist. Teach something else instead of Irish? By all means make the argument. We spend over a billion euro a year on Irish? No we don’t, not even close.
And of course, you ignore the fact that even if there was merit to what Walsh tried to calculate, he factored in billions that had nothing to do with teaching Irish to inflate the figure. But you can’t even bring yourself to acknowledge that.
(I also enjoyed your little “thought experiment” section. I have no problem with you doing this to make your argument, but since you accused me of “whataboutery” when I did the same thing, it was somewhat hypocritical to do so.)
Here is the funny part though. You said I was an imbecile for my argument on why the €1.2 billion figure is bogus. Fine – you are entitled to your opinion.
But you had a different opinion when you discussed the exact same argument in one of your blog posts after you published your video.
You said you expected lots of people to make the point that the €1.2 billion figure was bogus. However, according to you “ only one single person out of hundreds picked me up on it. And of course, he was right. If mandatory Irish were scrapped tomorrow, most of that money would simply be spent teaching kids other subjects.”
Funny how that guy was right when he made the point, but I am an imbecile for saying it.
By the way, you say Leaving Cert students spend 4-5 hours a week in class studying Irish. Where do you get 5 hours from? When I did the Leaving Cert, we had five 40 minute classes of Irish a week. That comes out to 3 hours, 20 minutes – and I imagine that is fairly standard. Why is it so hard for those lobbying against Irish to come up with accurate numbers?
…Caoimhín de Barra, April 2017