[lg policy] The Irish language and representation in Students ’ Unions >> Part Two…

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Wed May 12 14:49:57 UTC 2010

The Irish language and representation in Students’ Unions >> Part Two…
Posted by: Steve In: DCUSU| Education| Student Life

***advanced warning to readers – students’ union nerdy talk ahead…..***

On Thursday last I got a phone call from the head of the campaign to
promote Irish in DCU – Ní ionadaíonn Aontas na Mac Léinn OCBAC mé i
gceart. He asked to meet me to discuss my previous post on their
campaign. So I did. I had braced myself for the usual Irish mafia
torrid of abuse for simply disagreeing with some of their points.
Strangely I didn’t get that. What I got instead was a group of people
who are clearly passionate about the Irish language, their passion
however is rather simplistically channeled.

I told them many things. First of all to change their language and
drop the attitude – especially with me. Surprisingly they had already
acknowledged their language had been aggressive and had changed it.
Not so crazy these gaelgoers after all.

They raised (albeit rather subversively/subconsciously) an interesting
point about their motivations – and it is something I never really
thought off when confronted by any Irish language campaign – that
those who campaign for the Irish language believe that speaking the
language is a very important part of their cultural identity and in
fact they see themselves as a sub-culture (ignore the negative the
connotations of that word, they are not meant) of Irish society. This
caught me slightly off-guard. How can those who speak our national
language see themselves (and they didn’t admit it, but it was clearly
evident) as a sub-culture in Ireland?

I’ve decided to deal with this issue from an identity politics view
point, and plan on taking a very pro-active approach next year with
the College View.

My opinion hasn’t really changed on their demands – or rather their
requests now, but I certainly have a greater understanding and indeed
appreciation of where they are coming from and their motivations.

I expected the typical headstrong ‘you are with us or against us’
attitude and it was non-existent. I feel somewhat compelled to review
their concerns in light of the meeting to see what, if anything has

Point One – An Irish Language Officer

There is no reason under the current constitution we cannot have one.
Oh wait we do. Well, sort of. The DCUSU Constitution allows Union
Council to establish a non-exec officer to focus on a particular task
or whatever Union Council mandates it to do. I still believe that we
could end up with some minority groups on campus calling for their own
representation on the executive if the Irish Language campaign gets
their way. Now this is one of the main reasons championed for not
introducing an Irish Language Officer. How can this attitude be
overcome? Well first of all the group needs to drop the belief that
somehow the language is being persecuted in DCU. It may well be that
DCU is not fulfilling its obligations under the Universities Act 1997
and the Official Languages Act 2003 – the latter of course is the
piece of legislation they alluded too most, but forgot about but the
sense of entitlement needs to go – and more importantly the perception
that those who speak Irish are a bunch of rich, spoilt kids needs to
go as well.  I did also advise them that it may actually be a good
idea to stop mentioning legislation every five minutes at students –
David Doyle did something very similar during his failed Presidential
campaign – talking about Students’ Union constitutional issues and the
likes of which that simply went over the heads and under the radar of
the vast majority of ordinary students in DCU. The irony of someone so
engrained in Students’ Union politics wearing a T-shirt with reform on
it still makes me giggle – nice guy though, speaks way too fast.

There is fault at both ends when it comes to this Irish language
debate – and both sides are suffering as a result. What harm would an
Irish Language Officer do to the makeup and day-to-day operations of
the Students’ Union? None really, if the Officer is viewed as a
resource and an asset – we have got to stop viewing change and
democracy in DCU as a hinderance to progress. It is that attitude that
is in fact left the Students’ Union stagnant for so long. Will it
involve more work? Yes it will. It is very much like the USI debate
when you think of it. If you listen to all the arguments for and
against USI what does it actually boil down too? Well it is relatively
simple – membership of USI will increase the workload of the executive
officers – why? Because they would be better trained, would be
compelled to get involved in national issues – which do in fact effect
ordinary students (most of the time) and it will require a cultural
change within the operation of the Students’ Union.

if you think about it the university has the Students’ Union well
trained. It is insular looking, easily moulded from year to year as
the officers don’t get any real formal training from external
professionals, Union Council is hapless and incompetent at the best of
times, as it doesn’t even understand its own power – and the Students’
Union constitution forbids the union from campaigning on real issues
of interest to students.

Anyway, I digress slightly, but the point still stands. The Irish
Language Officer could potentially also be a revenue generating
exercise. There are grants all over the place for Irish language
projects, still too numerous to go into here – what we would need is
an Irish language Officer that would be willing to work in tandem with
the executive and recognise that the process would be a slow one (and
this can often be hard to find, as in my experience most Irish
Language Officers have one monumental sceallóg on their shoulders).

Another benefit of the Irish Language Officer could in fact be to
international students. Now I know I listed this as a negative in my
last post – but it’s time to turn that frown upside down. Why doesn’t
the Students’ Union simply embrace the possibilities that a more
multi-lingual Union could bring? It would certainly increase
participation. I have to say I was rather surprised by the lack of
interest overall shown by candidates in the vote of international
students. There was no effort to make any poster multi-lingual in
order to gain those few extra first preferences. The international
student community is an untapped resource when it comes to the DCU
Students’ Union. Societies welcome international students, but DCUSU
is not afraid of them, just doesn’t really actively seek to involved
them. Multi-lingual policies could be established by the Students’
Union – to ensure its message is reaching all its membership – not
just entertainment events, but on campaigns, issues of education and
welfare – it could actually be argued that the Students’ Union is
failing in its duty of care by not enacting mulit-lingual policy.

So what about the avalanche of additional officers? The deafening cry
of all the minority groups demanding executive officers? Well in DCU
its rather unlikely as most of the minority groups are badly
organised. And if some do start establishing standing committees of
Union Council. These committees can feed into policy creation at Union
Council – which to be honest would be a first in itself and could be
referred too by Union Council. They could be given a wide brief and
more importantly given objectives with deadlines to ensure some actual
benefit to their existence. And what would be the harm? None really
except DCUSU would start acting like a representative organisation for
a change.

Point Two – Irish Language Council

Not a chance, this is something that cannot work. I actually floated
the idea past a few former Students’ Union hacks (meant in the ESU
way, not the UCD way {USI joke, nobody in DCU will get this}) . I
reiterate the establishment of a special Standing Committee that meets
in public and accepts participation in part of its deliberations from
members of the Students’ Union and possibly other interested
individuals (upon invitation and approval by Union Council – and that
is important for several reasons). The last thing needed is this
committee somehow starts to think like the Commission of Arbitration
and thinks it is higher than Union Council – ‘cuz as we all now know,
that thinking is just retarded to the extreme.

Such a Standing Committee could look at introducing bilingual policy,
the establishment of working groups, policy for liaising with clubs
and societies for the promotion of the Irish language, and look at
enriching not just the cultural experiences of our international
students, but it has to be said some of the indigenous students as

Also I would imagine there is more than one Irish language group in
the locality of DCU. Did someone say disadvantaged area and Irish
language in the same sentence? Somewhere in DCU a Financial Controller
and Marketing person had a warm tingle down their spines – and this
time its not someone dancing on their graves – grants and lots of
them. And the Students’ Union doesn’t take advantage of this?

Point Three – Irish language on Union publications

And this is not done why? And for the love of God – DO NOT ASK
language from a legal perspective. Don’t screw it up before you even
start. When I worked in the National Educational Welfare Board (it’s
under the auspices of the Dept. of Education) my eyes were opened to
the minutia of the Irish language translation racket services in
Ireland. Get it done properly by the highly qualified individuals out
there – not by someone who really wanted to do Irish Studies in TCD
but couldn’t get the points – an expert it doth not make.

Point Four – Presence of the Irish language at Union events

Its not as fickle as I originally imagined but nonetheless it is
something of merit – it will involve changing the signs on the toilets
(possibly) but also introducing some Irish language signing acts –
which to be fair we mostly all love – singing contemporary chart songs
– just in irish. Harm? None. Entertaining? Immensely. Can’t wait to
watch certain people mime to something they barely know the words too
in english on account of having no real social life or grasp of
popular culture, never mind the look on their faces when their
favourite chart music goes ‘foreign’. Let them see some of them try
and score when they look like they have had a stroke as they pincer
move into some hapless first year. Am I being fair there? I think so.

This is a relatively interesting suggestion – once they finally
explained it to me. Need to explain these points lads – not just
shouty, shouty, rant, rant – that’s my job.

Point Five – Legislation and legal stuff

Ya, great in principle – but the Students’ Union is not an authority
figure in the Irish language on campus – get all of the above done
first then revisit this. Mandate the President and whoever else to
push this at Governing Council – but leave this to the big boys and
girls for now, but don’t forget about it.


So there you have it – a somewhat revised opinion on this sordid
little affair. My message to everyone: Play nice, and try not throw
the toys out of the playpen again. The College View will be reviewing
the level of Irish language contained in its publication and see what
we can certainly do to promote it amongst our readership.

Oh and apparently the entire Irish speaking community in DCU is not
confined to Fiontar. Who knew?


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