Thursday, January 11, 2018

Black made bright!

I probably would not have bought this book myself however I received it as a gift over the Christmas and I really enjoyed it.

It is a book the like of which I have never read before. How can one catagorise it? It doesn't fall into any genre that I have come across before now.

Darach Ó Séaghdha is the guy behind the twitter account @theIrishFor,  described as "Smithereens of Irish, translated with grá for your pleasure." He has now authored a volume entitled, perhaps  provocatively, as "Motherfoclóir!"* He subtitles it as "Despatches from a not so dead language!" He secured the services of Dara Ó Briain to write a forward and he ends this with the advice to "enjoy the journey. There's no exam at the end."

So it is a lighthearted and good humoured look at something every Irish person has some experience of - our National Language. Or is it? Certainly it is funny in parts, causing out loud laughing to this reader on occasion. But is is more.

It examines language characteristics (not only Irish) and unearths some things we all know and some of these are things we don't know that we know. He points out that sometimes English (and other languages) uses words which hide the real meaning by using foreign derivations (Latin or Greek) whereas in Irish the meaning can often be clear - too clear sometimes, as in matters of intimacy. He quite consciously (and correctly) refuses to enter into any controversies about things like abortion and other subjects which have been - or will be - the subject of referendums. He brings a virtual treasure trove of words to our attention, old and new, modern and archaic. His sources are wide and varied, old dictionaries (including the esoteric Dinneen) and the school yards of Gaelscoileanna and those places where Irish remains the vernacular language..

In all the fun he occasionally becomes quite serious. His chapter on Language and the Bureaucracy give one of the most compelling arguments for bilingualism in the law I have seen. How it can helps in clarifying what can be quite arcane concepts. (He draws attention that the belief that the Constitution - Bunracht na hÉireann - was written in English and then translated into Irish, is not factually correct.)

It also has interesting (and realistically possible) ways of ensuring that Irish is a subject is broadened out in our educational system. But is any bureaucrat or politician listening?

One of the most touching things about this book are the obvious love and respect the author has for his family. He writes particularly movingly about his father and his family. One might be reading and enjoying some contrasting words when suddenly we are brought into intensely personal memories. Although this helps makes the book difficult to categorise it does add great charm to be brought into the author's own thoughts.

I laughed as I enjoyed this book but it also made me think.  I am glad that the author did not adhere to the advice of Tommy the Kaiser, "Ná h-abair faic, ná scríobh faic mar nuair a chuireann tú an dubh ar an geal tá tú fuckálta a bhuachail."

We owe the author gratitude in that he continues to keep the candle of Irish burning - "beautiful and fragile, romantic and pratical, but scary to those who've been burnt before..."

Gura maith agat!

* "Motherfoclóir, Despatches from a not so dead language."  by Darach Ó Séaghdha.
Publisher: Head of Zeus Ltd.
ISBN: 9781786691866 (HB) or 9781786691859 (E)

Monday, December 4, 2017

A pronounced low level of respect!

‘I have a great love of the language… but I’m not promising that I’m going to study Irish,’ is the headline this morning in the Irish news service (Irish). It is quoting remarks the new Minister for the Gaeltacht, Josepha Madigan TD, made in a programme on RTÉ Television - view the segment here.

Beirt gan Gaeilge!
According to a number of tweets that followed,  she displayed a marked depreciation of the National Language and culture. And another stated that she would be unable to communicate with the community she is supposed to be serving.

Indeed is is hardly an exaggeration to say that she embodies, as have all Ministers of the Gaeltachta since 2011, the State message noted by Seán Ó Cuirreáin so many times - "Speak Irish among yourselves but speak English to us!"

The fact that she seems to pawn off this part of her responsibility to a Junior Minister tells its own story - " know Joe McHugh has dedicated statutory responsibility for the Gaeltacht...."

A Green Party candidate for the Dublin Mid West Constituency, Peter Kavenagh, remarked, "It would appear that Fine Gael think Irish is quite nice, but that they do not have to take it seriously and show any commitment or leadership at the cabinet table!"

But perhaps the most fluent of the comments on twitter was from the twitter account of author Felicity Hays-McCoy.

"Not being proficient in a language doesn't imply you don't love it. Being unwilling to improve your proficiency in Irish when you're the minister with responsibility for the Gaeltacht suggests your definition of "loving" a language doesn't imply a high level of respect for it."

In last Saturday's Irish Times the incomparable Miriam Lord spoke about the new minister's insistence on the correct pronunciation of her name.

One wishes she showed even half this enthusiasm for the language and culture of the Region she has the honour to be responsible for, even if she tries to disown that responsibility.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Surreal and no darling....

Is it any wonder that the single word comment, "Joke!" was made by one observer on the Department Representatives' performance?

Last Tuesday the Irish Times featured an article by Fintan O'Toole, entitled "Ireland is nobody’s little darling any more!" In it he mentions several of the recent failures of the country in the international arena, the Rugby World Cup and the efforts to secure host countries for the European bodies being displaced by Britain's leaving of the European Union. He mentions our lack of facilities in the cyber world. Indeed, as he pointed out our claim to have a robust scientific culture is belied by our position as the only Western European not involved in the great particle physics research project CERN.

His statement "We’ve lost our exotic allure without replacing it with the attraction of efficiency!" is difficult to deny on the same day that the Taoiseach was silenced by the Leas Ceann Comhairle in the Dáil.

Still later in the day (and perhaps lost in the political turmoil of other events) an Oireachtas Committee meeting was held which was described by its chair, Catherine Connelly as "surreal!" The dictionary definition of the word is perhaps more graphic,  "having the disorienting, hallucinatory quality of a dream; unreal; fantastic:" Later she described it as the most difficult meeting that she has chaired and she has chaired over fifteen of these.

The meeting was to examine the state system and its provision of a bilingual service to the community. The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, which is there "to serve the country, its people and the Government by delivering well-managed and well-targeted public spending, through modernised, effective and accountable public services."

The committee apparently sent a questionnaire to the Department so that they would be prepared for the items that were of interest to the members. This was completed and circulated to the members and normally read out to the meeting. However it transpired that the Department had not sent a delegation competent enough to read this in the National Language and so they read an English translation while the members followed it in Irish. The Chair stated that this was a surreal experience. When asked why they hadn't sent somebody who could address the committee in the language usually used by this particular committee the reply was not only surreal but revealing, "It didn't occur to us!"

Indeed the whole meeting was itself revealing of the State System's attitude to the language. When asked about the linguistic ability of the person in the Department responsible for ensuring that statutory obligations under the Official Languages Act they were told that she was unable to speak the language. That is worth repeating - the person responsible for ensuring that the Department Public Expenditure and Reform fulfills its obligations under the Official Languages Act is unable to speak one of them.

When asked if the had even read The 20 Year Strategy for the Irish Language they hadn't. Further they stated that there was little demand for service from the public in Irish. It was pointed out to them that people in the Gaeltacht had given up speaking to the State Service in Irish as they realised just how half-hearted, if not downright hostile, the reception of such interaction. Not only has "the state lost its allure" but perhaps (as pointed out by Seán Ó Cuirreáin some years ago), perhaps it never had it as far as those people who have managed to preserve out language over the generations.

The Chair remarked that the ability of the delegation to such a committee spoke volumes about the State System's seriousness in matters concerning the National Language.

The transmission starts about 20 minutes in - the written report had not been uploaded as yet (24 Nov 2017).

Is it any wonder that the single word comment, "Joke!" was made by one observer on the Department Representatives' performance?

More alarming was the evidence of any vision or leadership for the language for which the state is supposed to be the champion. Indeed one wonders if secretly they wish that Article 8 of our constitution be repealed!

Joke indeed?

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Body to disband next month for lack of Government support.

The latest twist in the story of the inadequacy of the funding made available for the approved Language Planning initiative in the Cois Fharraige District (Na Forbacha west to Ros a'Mhíl) was the decision of the Forum to disband unless a realistic increase in funding becomes available. This ought not be regarded as a threat according to their chair, Máire Ní Neachtain, speaking on the radio this morning, but rather as the only option as the plan could not be operated as envisiged and approved without this support.

They have spent three long years in developing this plan at the request of the Government. It is not unreasonable at this stage to be able to see the fruits of their labours!

An unanimous decision was taken by the Forum last night (20 November 2017) to resign en mass unless the Department came up with realistic funding by Christmas. They are hopeful that a response will be forthcoming from the Department (Arts, Heritage & the Gaeltacht).

There were 22 representatives of 17 local community organisations present at the meeting.

Great dismay was expressed at the report from the forum committee on their meeting (earlier this month) with representatives of the Department & the Udarás in so far as the Department seemed unable (unwilling?) to provide funding to enable a plan approved and permitted by the Minister in accordance with the legal provisions to proceed.

The comprehensive plan, suitable for this complex area, was developed and submitted on the request of the Government and approved last May and launched by Minister of State Joe McHugh  at a function in Gaoth Dobhair in September, calls for three full-time employees to accomplish the work and funding of €250,000 per year. However during this launch it transpired that the Department would only finance it to the tune of €100,000 pa and one employee. The Minister said at the time "The allocation of up to €100,000 for each area means that the Gaeltacht communities will now be able to put their plans into action and have a greater influence than ever on the state of the Irish language, with ongoing assistance from my Department, Údarás na Gaeltachta and other stakeholders." This despite the fact that the Cois Fharraige Forum had carefully costed and fine tuned their plan, the plan launched and approved that day by the Minister, at €250,000 per annum. Quite obviously the Department or the Minister or both had not read the plan.

The Forum believes that this decision leaves the entire scheme in ruins and their diligent work of three years a complete waste of time.

In a statement after the meeting last night the Forum expressed its anxiety that "time is slipping by and severe neccessity for a plan to progress for the language requirements for the district from No Forbacha to Ros a'Mhíl" (our translation). The unanimous decision was to allow the Department and Udarás na Gaeltachta until Christmas 2017 "to submit an offer with a substantial increase in the annual funding and human resources for implementation."

A former head of RTÉ Raidío na Gaeltachta, Tomás Mac Con Iomaire has said that all the Gaeltacht Language Planning Forums and/or Committees should come together to take a stand on the attitude of the Department. Professor Dónal Ó Baoill, workig on the scheme in Gaoth Dobhair & Na Rosann, has said that these plans cannot succeed without adequate support and leadership. Páidí Ó Sé from the Corca Duibhne Co-operative, said last month that the team in that district was supporting the stand being taken by the Cois Fharraige Forum.

• See also "Keep your €100,000!"

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Listening and thinking...action?

As we mentioned in our previous posting the Language Planning Forum of the Cois Fharraige area of South Conamara rejected as inadequate the funding offered for the action plan which it had previously approved. (see Keep you €100k!).

Statement from the Forum
In making their unanimous decision they did however leave the way open for discussions with the Department and with Udarás na Gaeltachta (who had assisted in funding the research which lead to the final approved plan).

Now we learn that five members of the Forum met officers from both the Department & the Udarás on the 9th November to discuss the impasse. They pointed that the plan could not progress or even start thier plan without the resources as outlined in the plan.

At the end of the meeting, which lasted two hours, the Department of the Gaeltacht officials requested more time to think on what they had heard from the delegation. They indicated that the Department would revert to the delegation after that.

Meanwhile in the words of the former Coimisinéir Teanga, Seán Ó Cuirreáin, in his last statement before resigning in principle( translation): "Meanwhile tick-tock, Tempus fugit and if, as is said in Irish, “God’s mills grind slowly” it appears the wheels of the state turn more slowly still, particularly in the case of the language."

Perhaps we could also say while the Department mulls Rome burns.

The Forum itself is to meet on the 20th November to discuss the meeting and progress, if any, in the discussions.

Listening and thinking is well and good but will it lead to action?

What does history tell us?

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Keep your €100,000!

Something quite extraordinary happened in the Cois Fharraige district of South Conamara last Monday evening. A committee, which had spent two years voluntarily and on a "pro bono" basis working on a project authorised by the Government producing a comprehensive report and plan for the area, unanimously rejected €100,000 as the maximun amount of money to implement the plan.

The draft plan was presented to the people of the district at the end of last year. Subsequently the completed plan was submitted to Udarás na Gaeltachta and then to the relevant Government Department and was accepted by both bodies and indeed was welcomed by the Minister of State responsible Mr Joe McHugh when he launched them in September 2017. However when he welcomed them he advised that his Department was providing a maximum of €100,000 towards each of the plans in each Gaeltacht Area. This has now been rejected by at least one of the communities

So what went wrong.

The Gaeltacht Act, which was rammed through the Dáil in 2012, decided to place the onourous responsibility of language planning on each Gaeltacht Area. (Indeed this is the first act on Irish or the Gaeltacht not passed unanimously by the Oireachtas. Acht na Gaeilge in 2003, the act which instituted the office of Comissioner Teanga, was painstakingly put together and debated in each house and passed with the full agreement of all parties.) The 2012 act removed the democratic aspect of the Udarás na Gaeltachta from the people. An examination of the deficiencies appeared in this article in the Irish Times (3rd July 2012). In the event the Act was not properly debated and occasioned a walk out by the entire opposition before it was passed without a vote.

The Department then proceed to select the various areas (26 in all). These appear to be arbitrarily selected with little reference to the state of the language in the planning areas. In the Cois Fharraige area this is painfully obvious containing three types of areas as defined by linguistic experts. These are where the language is spoken by an absolute majority (western part of area), where it is less strong (the central area) and finally where it is quite weak (the part of the area closest to Galway City). One would have thought that even to the casual observer each of these areas would have different problems requiring different solutions. Nevertheless these areas are lumped together by the Department as one language planning area. Other Gaeltacht planning areas have been selected on the same haphazard basis. In recent days it has been reported that off the record comments from officials charged with approving these schemes had little or no expertese in the area of language planning.

These committees were given little direction from the Department and certainly they were given no directions or idea as to what finance would be available for the implementation of these games. Remember too that the members of the committees in each district are voluntary with little experience and had to seek advice from language planning experts. They were of course sensible people knowing that there would not be a limitless amount of funds available but assumed, foolishly as it now appears, that the Government wanted them to produce an effective workable plan suitable for the various sub-groups in the planning district.

A body called Fóram Chois Fharraige um Phleanáil Teanga (Cois Fharraige Language Planning Forum). This body is representative of many voluntary community-based organisations operating in the five school areas of Na Forbacha, An Spidéal, An Cnoc, An Tulach and Ros a’ Mhíl. Údarás na Gaeltachta awarded the contract for the preparation of a language plan to the Forum, a contract was signed and funding was provided to prepare a plan. Work commenced in 2014.

They arrived by the end of 2016 with an extraordinary, not to say impressive, document with costed recommendations for reasonable achievable goals in the period of the plan - 2017-2023. A pdf summary in English may be found here. The plan was prepared according to the guidelines set down by Údarás na Gaeltachta. "We estimate that the seven-year plan will cost approximately €250,000 to implement in the Cois Fharraige area. A new community-based and representative organization or company will be required to oversee the implementation of the plan."

Now it appears that the Department while accepting the plan is not prepared to ensure its success by providing the resources. They have moved the goalposts, they have castrated the plan and have shown contempt for the unselfish volunteers.  The plan  is now rendered inoperable and the work of the voluntary members of the committee is wasted. The money already spent on the funding of professionals by the state is also down the drain. This is the reason the Forum has rejected this decision of the Government.

The working Group for Corca Duibhne (West Kerry) have announced that they are supporting the Forum too. And there are reports that the body responsible in Gaoth Dobhair (Donegal) has in fact already disbanded.

The Coimisinéir Teanga made the following statement in 2015 (my translation) "...from my interpretation of the language planning process, with which I have no direct connection, it appears that the heavy burden has been placed on the local communities and I query if the state system is prepared to carry its own part of this burden. Maybe it is more correct to ask if the Gaeltacht people are being asked to shoulder more of the burden of the language than the State itself?" (August 2015)

It would appear that the State has now answered this question and it appears that the endangered Gaeltacht Communities have buckled under the strain.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Abandoned by Bank of Ireland!

This morning an article (Irish) in the on-line publication reports yet another retrograde step in the service provided by the Bank of Ireland to its customers.

There have been many accounts in the media of their unwillingness to deal face to face with customers wishing to withdraw money at their branches. Now it appears that in replacing their ATM machines they are discontinuing the linguistic choices available on these machines. From now on these will be monolingual.

According to the article this means that the only ATMs remaining to recognise the National Language (no matter how low the apparent demand) are those in the Applegreen petrol stations. These have no connection with the Bank of Ireland.

Bank of Ireland have stated that only about 1% of users use the Irish language facility but state they are unable to say in what parts of the country are the highest users.

There are four of these that I use frequently (two or three times per month) which are deep in the Gaeltacht and now it appears that the policy of the Bank of Ireland is to deny the people of my area - and any Gaeltacht area - to use their facilities in their own language.

I look forward to the time when the Central Bank authorises our local Credit Union to issue cheque books and other banking services so I can move my own monies fully to its care.

I'm sure some of the Language organisations have accounts with the Bank of Ireland. I wonder how many will use the muscle to advise the bank, and indeed other Banks, of their opinions in this matter

#Gaeilge @bankofireland @ceartateanga