[lg policy] Government approach to the Irish language ‘massively inadequate’

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Sat Feb 10 10:56:43 EST 2018


 Government approach to the Irish language ‘massively inadequate’ - Peadar
Tóibín TD

Peadar Tóibín TD will be launching a series of policy documents regarding
the future of the Irish Language

» Peadar Tóibín

"The needs of Irish speakers outside of the Gaeltacht are not being met. A
decade after leaving school the number of those who state they have Irish
falls by half." - Peadar Tóibín TD

The Taoiseach’s appointment of a non-Irish speaker, Josepha Madigan TD, as
Minister for the Department of the Culture and the Gaeltacht has raised
questions within the Irish speaking community.

Leo Varadkar posed for selfies with revellers at a Gaeltacht pop-up event,
where hundreds of Irish speakers regularly gather in bars. Many Irish
speakers were delighted to see Taoiseach Varadkar participate; however his
enthusiasm was eclipsed by his appointment of a Minister Madigan earlier
that day, who admitted on television that she did not intend on learning
the Irish language, despite her ‘great love’ for it.

This is Fine Gael’s approach to the Irish language laid out exactly when
the truth is - Irish is a wonderfully rich, cultural gift that is an
irreplaceable part of the diversity of the planet. It’s been our voice for
nearly two thousand years and yet, we might well be the last generation to
have Irish as a community language.

The 20 Year Strategy for the Irish Language was published in 2010, to halt
its decline within the Gaeltacht and the state, aiming to triple the number
of daily Irish speakers by 2030 to 250,000. With figures going in the
opposite direction this document has been an unmitigated failure, yet we
are still waiting for a revised plan over two years after a review was
initiated.

Central to this is the real time collapse of our Gaeltacht regions. The
census results published this year showed a drop of 11% of daily speakers.
Only 502 children aged between 3 and 4 speak Irish daily at home in the
whole of the Gaeltacht. 56% of Gaeltacht children have to attend English
language preschools. 94% of principles of Irish-medium schools said that
sometimes they had no choice but to hire a substitute teacher with little
Irish. The recruitment of full time teachers with fluent Irish in some
Gaeltacht areas is becoming next to impossible.

Critically those who have made a life for themselves in the Gaeltacht are
faced with a state that has a policy of compulsory English. There are seven
Government departments without any Irish language positions at all,
including the Department of Children who are charged with the provisions of
Preschool Education.

When the Department of the Gaeltacht is taken out of the equation, there
are only 29 jobs out of 19,795 with an Irish language requirement in the
state service. This is not reflective of any effort to build a bilingual
state despite the fact that 1,761,420 people self-identified with Irish
speaking ability in the last census. Sociolinguists predict that the
Gaeltacht will survive only ten, perhaps 20 more years at best. This would
be in my view cultural cleansing by Government disinterest.

[image: Peadar Tóibín TD]

Gaeltacht areas have not received fair play economically, and some of the
strongest Gaeltacht areas are among the most deprived of infrastructure and
employment opportunities in the state. Capital funding for Údarás na
Gaeltachta, the body responsible for the economic development of Gaeltacht
areas, has fallen by 70% since 2007. Compare this with a 66% increase in
funding for IDA, and a 42% increase in funding for Enterprise Ireland in
the same time period.

‘Language Planning’, which was hailed by Fine Gael as the saviour of the
Gaeltacht regions, has fallen asunder. 26 different volunteer Language
Planning groups worked to produce a deep and rich seam of plans in order to
rebuild the Gaeltacht, but before any of these plans were read, the
department plucked a paltry funding figure from sky.

There is a palpable sense of disempowerment from the Gaeltacht communities
who have been promised a lot but have been consistently undelivered to.
Ministerial decisions even more sharply reflect political needs than in the
rest of Ireland. The vast majority of capital spending (87%) was in Donegal
in the months since the appointment of Minister of State for the Gaeltacht,
Joe McHugh.

While the Policy on Gaeltacht Education which was introduced last year is
to be commended, the absence of pre-schools in the Gaeltacht School
Recognition Scheme is a real blind spot. It’s absurd that there is no
provision for Gaeltacht school status for pre-schools considering the
majority of children in the Gaeltacht receive their pre-schooling through
English. This will dilute the efficacy of immersive teaching through Irish
in primary schools, with English from the outset the more dominant
language.

Outside of the Gaeltacht there is no plan for the development of Gaelscoil
education despite huge demand. 23% of parents seek Gaelscoil education for
their children while only 5% of primary school children actually receive
it.

The needs of Irish speakers outside of the Gaeltacht are not being met. A
decade after leaving school the number of those who state they have Irish
falls by half. Leo Varadkar admitted that his Irish went rusty after school
because of the lack of opportunities to use it.

There is no Cultúrlann (Irish Language Centre) in Dublin city centre in
which people of all ages can socialise. Belfast has had a Cultúrlann since
1991.

Personal efforts of a couple of TDs to speak the language aside there is no
vision, plan or leadership. To the Government Irish exists as no more than
a hobby.

Despite all of this there is much positive energy in the Irish language. 67
per cent of the respondents in the south of Ireland and 45 per cent from
the North are positive about the Irish language (ESRI, 2015). Inside the
Gaeltacht some individuals, families and organisations are starting to
stand up for their language rights. Outside the Gaeltacht more and more
people are choosing to play for an all Irish GAA club, raise their children
in Irish and drink in a Pop-Up Gaeltacht Pub.

The decline of Irish and the Gaeltacht is not inevitable but resurgence is
possible - it’s not rocket science. Volumes of research and detailed policy
are available. The Irish language needs a Government who will no longer
kill the language with platitudes and who will draw a line under the past.
It does not need a Government who after teaching everyone Irish then
prevents public services being accessed in Irish. The Irish Government
needs to create a new deal for the language. We need to send a message to
Gaeltacht communities, Irish speaking families, students and adult learners
– ‘speak the language today because tomorrow the language will be stronger,
more extensive and more valuable’.

2018 is Bliain na Gaeilge. It’s time for Government to stand up for Irish
speakers and the Gaeltacht. There will no second chance for the Irish
language.
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 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com
http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/~haroldfs/

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