[lg policy] Ireland: Developing language policy by hunch!

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Mon Nov 21 15:00:05 UTC 2011

Developing language policy by hunch!

It is hard to see a real love of the Irish heritage in the actions
taken by the current government and epecially in the majority party.

Opened by a President closed by Fine Gael?

"The "Free State" never had any intention to revive the native
language. They always needed to cloy to English norms, without which,
they would be dumb and blind. Those who were given power by the
English, were totally "cleansed" of any trace of our traditions and
culture. They are irrelevent and what ever they do is irrelevent. We
must press on without them. Beidh lá breá gréine in Éirinn lá. Labhair
Gaeilge! Droch rath ar na 'Léinte Gorma'" .

This is a comment typical of many which have appeared in the last few
days following the shoch announcememnt of the planned watering-down,
if not the total abolition of the Language Commissioner's office. A
paper by Dúbhglás de hÍde, 1st President of Ireland "The necessity for
the de-anglicising the Irish nation!" instigated the birth of the
nation. Are we now smothering that same nation through thoughtless

Fine Gael has form!

Earlier this year the Language Commissioner, Seán Ó Cuireáin in a
report described the ending nearly 40 years ago of the requirement for
civil servants to have competence in Irish as well as English, when
addressing a conference in Dublin last February.

This decision was taken by a Fine Gael Minister of Finance and in fact
a lot of the so-called costs of translations etc would harldy be
neccessary if this dicision had not been taken as there would be
sufficient personnal "in house" to handle the business in both
languages. He cites as an example that the "Department of Education
and Skills, which recently revealed that only 1.5% of its
administrative staff had sufficient competence in Irish to be able to
provide service in that language." This in a Department that to a
large extent was entrusted with the "revival of the Irish language" at
the foundation of the state.

 Enda Kenny himself commented on a report from the Education
Department in 2006: "....it's pretty ironic that the Department of
Education, which has been dealing with the teaching of Irish for more
than 80 years, was not in a position to translate this report itself
and had to contract an outside company to get the document
translated." (23 June 2006). Is it possible that Richie Ryan's
decision some forty years previously had an influence?

Fine Gael's Richie Ryan statement as he announced this change
proclaimed that this decision will lead "replacing the compulsion
which did so much damage to the Irish language over the past half
century with enthusiasm for the language, we will have people more
readily disposed to use Irish.” Another hunch?

Mr Ryan, where are these people?

Mantaining the "murder machine!"
P. H. Pearse, President of the Provisional Government in 1916 referred
to the education system here as the "Murder Machine." It is not so
long ago since the leader of Fine Gael, now Taoiseach Enda Kenny,
promoted the abolition of Irish as a neccessary subject in our Leaving
Certificate examination. He was approached last year on his policy to
eject Irish from the core curriculum at Leaving Certificate level.
When asked to explain how the survival prospects of an imperilled
language could be improved by lowering its social status, he replied
that his policy for Irish in the schools is based on a personal
'hunch.' (Letter to newspapers 8 Feb 2011)

Fine Gael is not alone!
This notion of change be "hunch" or without adequate, or indeed any,
clear notion as to why an action should be taken is demonstrated in a
recent article from the pen of Irish Times columnist Fintan O'Toole, a
journalist with whose opinions this writer does not always agree. He
asks: "Want to hear about a daft idea that deserves to be shelved?"
His vision for Irish is perhaps laudable. "My vision for Irish in our
education system is simple: I believe we should equip our people, and
particularly our young people, with a real, a useful, and a
communicative knowledge of the Irish Language." His 'personal hunch'
however leads him to state, "All students will be offered a choice as
to whether to study Irish after the Junior Certificate examination."

Language planning by intuition!
And now in what appears to be a continuation of their Irish Language
policy by "hunch," they have announced the intention, as part of the
"Public Service Reform" announced by the Government, to "merge" the
office of the Language Commissioner with that of the Ombudsan. In a
statement Seán Ó Cuireáin confirmed that he had not been consulted on
the decision and was informed by telephone on Wednesday night. This is
breathtaking not only displaying a lack of courtesy but also a lack of
evidence of any real considerationof the impact of such a decision -
another hunch?

The wording in the policy states "Merge functions of Language
Commissioner with Ombudsman Office." This appears as a decision. Then
this rider is added, "To be progressed in the context of the ongoing
review of the Official Languages Act 2003" In other words it is
removing the examination of the independance of the Language
Commissioner's office from the review of the Act. It ties the hands of
the review. Why?

The ostensible reason for this decision was to save money. "The need
to reduce public spending and drive greater efficiency is clearly
evident and has been committed to. We will relentlessly focus on
delivering better value for money through the implementation of Public
Service Reform."

Let's examine the costs. According to the Junior Minister with
responsibility for the Gaeltacht, Dinny McGinley, the cost for this
office is €600,000 per annum. The bulk of this cost is salaries and
rental of the premises in the Gaeltacht. The staff of the office are
civil servents and the plan states that no personell will loose their
jobs. The Commissioner himself has been appointed by the President for
a term which expires in 2016. The rent for the premises is being paid
to another State agency, Údarás na Gaeltachta. It is not unreasonable
to assume that any additional costs are the cost of the work
accomplished through the office in serving the public. Mr Kenny says
there will be no reduction in the standard and efficiency of the
office under the new regime. Minister Howlin echoes this in relation
to the total programme, "These measures are designed to make service
delivery more effective and efficient!"

Could it be that this is another hunch?

Mr Kenny, where is the saving?

Are they alone?
The other parties have little to be proud of either.
Sinn Féin, whom one might think would be full of practical love of
their language presided over the closing down of the only Irish
Language daily newspaper.
Fianna Fáil did little to change the hostile legislation of Richie
Ryan when they returned to power. Yes while they were in power the did
eventually pass a language act 71 years after they came to power.
Indeed there are those that feel that even this would not have
happened but for the dedication and sheer nerve of Éamon Ó Cuív.
The Labour Party have hardly covered themselves in glory in the over
80 years since the foundation of the state. Michael D Higgins'
steadfastness in the face of relentless criticism resulted in the
foundation of the now much praised TG4.

Is it any wonder that the people of the Gaeltacht and the language are
totally disillusioned?

The Irish people require leadership in restoring its self respect as a
nation. Seán Ó Cuireáin in some small way was helping in that. Not all
people thought that his office was as useful as it could be or indeed
that some of the aspects of the Language Act itself were that useful
but it was all we had and it was subject to review. Will that review
be realistic, honest, scientific or will all the changes if any be
based on a hunch?

The prospect is terrifying!


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