[lg policy] The Irish language and representation in Students ’ Unions.

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Fri May 7 13:25:17 UTC 2010

The Irish language and representation in Students’ Unions.
Posted by: Steve In: DCUSU| Education| Student Life

An amusing little campaign has started in DCU. ‘Ní ionadaíonn Aontas
na Mac Léinn OCBAC mé i gceart’ is a facebook and viral email campaign
started by a number of students who have a strong passion for the
Irish language. Their facebook page can be found here. Now when I say
amusing I don’t want to sound terribly derogatory  - it’s amusing
because of its use of language and how aggressive it is.

The campaign basically wants:

1. We demand an Irish Officer on the executive committee of DCUSU like
nearly every other University so that we have adequate
representation.. If that is not available we would prefer if our money
was spent elsewhere.

2. We demand that Irish representatives be elected from every class
who wishes to be represented and that an Irish Council is elected to
discuss the question of Irish in the Union.

3. We demand a visible presence of the Irish Language in the Union’s publicity.

4. We demand a presence of the Irish language in the Union’s events.

5. We demand that the Union make sure that the University fulfill
their legislative duties to Irish according to the Universities Act

I am not sure how much of this is really valid. If the DCUSU was to
introduce an Irish Language officer there could be a case for LGBT
students, disabled students, international students etc demanding an
equal level of representation. But what level of representation is
equitable? Can the Students’ Union instead not set up standing
committees that would feed into both the executive and Union Council.

Other Students’ Unions have introduced executive officer level
representation and it has, in fairness, worked. UCDSU is a good
example, however DCUSU is not UCDSU. There is a lack of political
collaboration in DCU, policy and mandating is more or less
non-existent, and I could go on and on. Also we have to ask ourselves
what good is a single-minded portfolio officer to the decision making
process in any representational organisation. My experience is that if
you get someone who only cares about one thing, and has no time for
the main ethos and objectives of the organsiation they in fact become
a major hinderance to the decision making process and in fact create a
mistrust of the position resulting in little being achieved by that
portfolio. Would it instead be better to introduce the standing
committee that would in fact involve even more students in the Unions
mechanics, increasing participation and ultimately benefiting
everyone? A broader range of opinions will be cultivated from students
who are passionate about the language and a broader consensus could
then be reached avoiding conflict within the DCU Irish speaking
community, and more importantly causing bad blood amongst other
minority groups. Introducing an Irish Language Officer with the
current political climate in DCU could actually have a domino effect
of demands for executive level representation from other minority
groups which could feasibly have a greater membership that needs

Point two is outside the remit of the existing constitution and may
add a ridiculous level of bureaucracy and raise questions of
authority. If such a council was to be introduced in the new
constitution it could only have a limited time frame as what is being
demanded and the remit given is too narrow. What function would a
council of this really have? How would it add to the decision making
process within the Union and how would Union Council and the Irish
Council make joint decisions – or indeed does the Irish Council just
make recommendations?

Point three has merit – and is something you would think would be
simple to introduce. Students’ Unions are very reactive organisations
– they don’t provide services or enact policy until they are lobbied
to do so, so maybe this will start from next year.

Point four – again would like to know how we define ‘presence’ – is it
that we simply change the door signs for the toilets to ‘fir’ and
‘mna’ or are we talking about the DJ speaking Irish? If we are talking
about a DJ speaking just Irish there would be significant issues with
this policy change – DCU has a large international student population.
English is the predominant language in DCU and is By far the primary
learning and social language. However, as often in these things, that
would be the extreme -which is what those who get their backs up when
the ‘irish language mafia’ start campaigning would be imagining and I
am sure that is not what is being demanded. Surely?

Point five – Section 12 of the Universities Act 1997 requires the
university to ’special regard to the preservation, promotion and use
of the Irish language and the preservation and promotion of the
distinctive cultures of Ireland’. Now firstly I would like to point
out that this is not limited to the Irish language. It could equally
apply to the travelling community, the new ethnic cultures that have
firmly embedded themselves in the tapestry of Irish society. Should we
not instead look towards developing a union policy that encompasses
all ‘distinctive cultures’ of DCU? Would introducing just an Irish
language officer be repugnant to this section of the act? The ’special
regard’ does not just apply to the Irish language.

What this group is alluding too is also the universities obligations
under the Official Languages Act 2003 (sections 10-12) which require
official documents to be made available in both English and Irish. Is
DCU failing in its obligations in this? Does the Students’ Union have
an obligation to lobby the university to adhere to its legal
obligations? Well it would if it was mandated to do so. Any student
can call for a mandate to be enacted at Union Council. Why haven’t
those who are so motivated on this issue not done so? Some have been
vocal complaining at the Union Councils I have attended – but they
never called for a mandate. There was an attempt to do so over the
Union website but the mandate was quite watered down. The appetite on
this issue in the DCUSU council simply isn’t there – I doubt very much
this level of campaigning will change that. In fact it may have
actually made it even more difficult to achieve. I am not saying that
this is a good thing – it is just what happens when you use aggressive
language and hysterical lobbying tactics to get your own way.

Speaking of aggressive language and hysterical lobbying tactics – this
line that regularly appears in the facebook page:

If that isn’t available we would prefer if our money was spent elsewhere.

And that attitude, if it continues will end this campaign before the
next academic year even starts. Of course it does also raise some
important questions on whether an individual can be forced to be a
member of a Students’ Union – and that is a blog post for another day.


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