Tuesday, April 4, 2017

"Direct agents for the spreading and establishment of English!" #Coimisnéir

An important comprehensive study was issued overnight by the Coimisinéir Teanga, Rónán Ó Domhnaill, an office filled by appointment of the President of Ireland, on the operation of a fundamental part of the Official Languages Act 2003. Up to now while people felt that things were not going to plan there was little other than anecdotal evidence. Now with this commentary, A Commentary on the Language Scheme System, we have firm proven and provable evidence as to just how they are working - or not - and why. We have included the Coimisinéir's own press release at the bottom of this piece.

He starts his report setting the scene "The Statement on the Irish Language published by the Government of Ireland in 2006 states that the Official Languages Act would be used 'to achieve a significant improvement on a phased basis, over a period, in the level of services through Irish provided by the State.' That objective was reaffirmed in the 20 Year Strategy for the Irish Language when it referred to 'the right of the public to use Irish in dealings with the State' and sought to 'increase the number of people that use State services through the Irish language'”.

It was pointed out by the previous Commissioner, before he resigned on principle, that he really had no idea how the 20 Year Strategy was working and suggested that the members of the Oireachtas were in the same position. He pointed that he was unaware if anyone was measuring its impact. "What gets measured gets done!" he said (Oireachtas Reports 23 Jan 2014).  This aphorism was repeated by the present encumbent almost exactly one year later (Oireachtas Reports, 14 Jan 2015). So here at last we have a measurement - something more than just an anecdote, a feeling. This is a serious document.

The most startling lines for this reader are found on on pages 28 and 29. Here they are:
"As far back as 1926 the Commission for the Gaeltacht recognised the negative effect being exerted on the use of Irish in the Gaeltacht by public servants without Irish and the functioning of public services through the medium of English.

In order fully to understand it, one has only to visualise a Gárda Síochána barracks of English Speaking Gárdaí in the centre of an Irish Speaking district; or a Post Office, in which no one speaks Irish, in an Irish Speaking village; or a non-Irish Speaking official of the Department of Agriculture, or of the Land Commission, or of the Customs and Excise, operating amongst an Irish Speaking population. These officials are direct agents in the spreading and establishment of English. Coimisiún na Gaeltachta (1926)

"The Commission at that time attested to the necessity for Irish as the normal default language between the State and its executives and the people of the Gaeltacht, as well as for ensuring that public servants working in the Gaeltacht should be fluent in Irish. More than ninety years later neither those recommendations, nor their equivalent, have been implemented. (my emphasis)

"Service through the medium of Irish should be actively offered, and Gaeltacht customers should be made aware that they are welcome to use Irish in their dealings with the public body concerned. It must be remembered that there are strong, long-established English communication norms between Gaeltacht communities and various State organisations. Customers, who feel disadvantaged, lack confidence and who feel obliged to the organisation for whatever necessary assistance they receive, would be unlikely to demand service in their own language of choice if they felt that would inconvenience people. That is not to say that they would not choose to use Irish were that choice available and presented to customers in an effective manner."

As the Commisioner said in another place about this long established practise (Gaeltacht residents interacting with state organisations), "Bíodh is go bhfuil muid imithe i dtaithí ar an gcur chuige sin ní shin le rá go bhfuil sé ceart." (Trans: Because we are used to this way of doing things is not the same as saying it is the ideal!) Speech in Irish in Rosmuc 18 Sept 2015.

As the report states "the statutory Guidelines comply with the principle" of providing this choice to people but the practice remains leading to the unavoidable conclusion that today the state are still "direct agents in the spreading and establishment of English." (Is it not interesting to put this statement, philosophy, in the context of the 1893 address by Dr.Douglas Hyde which was so important for the struggle for independence?)

Gaeilge ar-líne
"I hope it will be considered!"
For instance how many of us remember when any of these organisations told us that they welcome interaction in what is after all "The National Language." (Bunracht na hÉireann Alt 8). In this writer's experience only two entities do this on twitter, Uisce Éireann (Irish Water) and  Cáin Mhótair Ar Líne (Motor Taxation On-Line). (I'm open to correction but ESB Networks, NCT, An Post, Traffic, etc are exclusively English language). Even the National Legislative assemblies of Seanad and Dáil Éireann rarely tweet anything in the National Language. The European Parliament is far more frequent (almost daily) in using our language. Uachtarán na hÉireann does tweet regularly in Irish (albeit incomprehensibly under the heading @presidentIRL).  The Taoiseach never tweets in Irish! And the political parties with the exception of the Greens & Sinn Féin are intermittant tweeters in Irish (though the latter is like the major parties - FG, FF, Lab - is lamentable in it recognition of Irish on their websites.)

The Coimisinéir's forward ends as follows: "I relayed my concerns regarding the deficiencies in the language scheme system to the Standing Joint Committee on the Irish Language, the Gaeltacht and the Islands, most recently on 4 October 2016. That Oireachtas committee requested that I submit proposals to it about ways in which public service provision through the medium of Irish could be administered more effectively. In Part II of this commentary, I propose an alternative approach in relation to some of the subjects being discussed under the language scheme system and other related matters which would, in my estimation, add considerably to the effectiveness of the legislation."

I have some confidence in the work being carried out by this committee under the effective chairmanship of Catherine Connelly T.D. and hope that this document will help them in their work and that, more importantly, using the words on the Coimisinéir Teanga, "Tá súil agam go dtabharfar aird orthu," which loses some of its flavour in the translation, "I hope it will be considered!"

The report is surely very important and merits careful study by all involved in serving our citizens in their choice of language as was recommended as far back as 1926 - ninety years ago.  

Is it too much to hope that the State will cease to be "direct agents in the spreading and establishment of English?"

The press statement from the Office of the Coimisinéir Teanga.

“The system of language schemes has failed to achieve its goal. This goal, to increase and improve Sate services available through the Irish language, will not be achieved unless a new system is established.” An Coimisinéir Teanga An analysis carried out by An Coimisinéir Teanga, Rónán Ó Domhnaill, on the system of language schemes demonstrated that, at the end of last year, seven requests for the preparation of a language scheme were outstanding for a period in excess of nine years. In a commentary on the operation of the Official Languages Act by An Coimisinéir Teanga, it was also reported that no Gaeltacht minister to date has reported any public body’s failure to prepare or agree a language scheme, although the Minister has the power to do so under the Official Languages Act. As part of this analysis an audit was carried out of every language scheme that was confirmed in 2015 and 2016. This audit demonstrates:
  • That retrograde steps were taken in more than half of the schemes that were agreed and were supposed to increase the services available in Irish
  • That posts with an Irish language requirement were identified in less than one language scheme in five
  • That commitments made in schemes, that were the subject of an investigation by An Coimisinéir Teanga, were set aside or reduced in two out of every three schemes subsequently confirmed
Among the recommendations made by An Coimisinéir Teanga are:
  • A new recruitment policy that would ensure a minimum necessary level of staff with competence in Irish
  • Common standards with regard to services in Irish that would not be based on the system of language schemes
  • To forge a connection between language planning and language rights by ensuring that State employees working in or serving the Gaeltacht, are fluent in Irish
An Coimisinéir Teanga, Rónán Ó Domhnaill, said, “it is clear that the system of language schemes has failed to achieve its goal. This goal, to increase and improve Sate services available through the Irish language, will not be achieved unless a new system is established. I have recommended an alternative approach in this commentary; I hope it will be considered.”

Friday, March 24, 2017

Not faking it any more...

This interesting paperback* will interest (among others) those many people who say "I'd love to speak Irish but...." It is an entertaining un-put-downable well written account of the journalist Micheal McCaughan's journey into the ancient language of Ireland - "Coming Home" he calls it.

After reading it you will understand the struggle, elation, joy and satisfaction that is before you.

It is the author’s story of his journey around Ireland and the Irish language. His comments on what he found about the two planets mutually uncomprending of each other - and in some cases openly hostile - the English Ireland and the Irish Ireland is fascinating.

From a surreal start involving dedicated listening to Raidió na Gaeltachta’s death notices, to rediscovering the soul of the language through immersing himself in Phil Lynott’s music – all without becoming a Gaelbore – Coming Home will make you want to follow in his footsteps and strike out in search of the grá.

Why don't you try? As the writer Joseph O'Conner said, "This journey towards a homecoming will touch many hearts."

* COMING HOME, One man’s return to the Irish Language
By Michael McCaughan
ISBN 9780717171590 €15.00
Publisher: Gill Books

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

A principled echo heard!

A recent excellent article, The TK Whitaker archives: a career of answering back, by Prodessor Diarmuid Ferriter, Professor of Modern Irish History at UCD, examined the record of the late T.K. Whitaker in his archive. The Papers of T.K. Whitaker are a deposited collection in the archive of University College Dublin.

The late Dr T.K. Whitaker
It is an very interesting appraisal of the contribution of this gentle and conscientious servant of the nation (in the full meaning of the word). This writer found it not fully objective but nevertheless it made riveting reading. (Defining the word "objective" is perhaps itself subjective and we all have our own way of looking at things.

One of the sentences in his piece caused me to pause and reflect. The writer was talking about Dr Whitaker's sojourn as Governor of the Central Bank. He served for one term only. "He would not serve a second term as governor, as it could have been regarded as 'a condonation of policies I considered to be wrong!'"

It is so rare to hear of people resigning or not taking a post on principle and it reminded me of a more recent case of a public servant resigning "on principle to draw attention to these matters or to continue in my role and, consequently, to participate in a pretence. "  These are the (translated) words of the first Language Ombudsman (Comisinéir Teanga) of Ireland, Seán Ó Cuirreáin, addressing an Oireachtas Committee on 23rd January 2014.

How lucky are we as a nation to have possessed such principled public servants.

May we continue to have such brave servants.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

No Irish...Radio?

This is a letter to the Irish Times sent 28/12/2016 but unpublished. (I don't have any issue with them not publishing it - they have the unenviable job of choosing what to publish!)

Here is another letter which WAS published on the exclusion of stations dated 4th January 2017.
The article by Jim Carroll entitled “No Irish: Why the lack of home-grown acts on Irish Radio?” (Irish Times 27/12/2016) featured twenty radio stations. Many of these were unknown to this listener. Yet inexplicably the National Radio station to which he listens most was sadly omitted. Raidío na Gaeltachta may or may not broadcast many home-grown acts but Mr Carroll's article leaves us in ignorance. A case of “No Irish?”

Yours etc

Eoin Ó Riain

@IrishTimes @RTERnaG @cnag @jimcarrollOTR @WilliePenroseTD @radiomonitorirl

Thursday, December 22, 2016

140 Characters is not enough!

Recently I foolishly got involved in a twitter argument on Irish and the usefulness of language. That topic usually does get my temperature up after a short series of tweet exchanges I thought the exchange was over. But then the fray was joined rather extraordinarily by @gtcost who sent in quick succession some dozen tweets to each of which I wished to respond. But twitter is not the best way to express deep felt thoughts so I resolved to write a piece and put it up as a jpeg attachment but it became veru=y long so I resolved to put it on my English blog. I hope it is civilised and not insulting - it is not intended to be.

The why of this piece!
For what it is worth here it is:

"I live in an Irish speaking community. The community council does its business through Irish. as do our local sports organisations, church functions, local bridge clubs, drama groups etc etc. I could not be classed as a member of a language pressure group - nor could any of my neighbours. It just happens to be a "required language" in our district. (a fact lamentably ignored by the Irish state but that is perhaps an entire other argument!)

Should we abandon it? Your logic seems to be that we should abandon or at least sideline that heritage (as so many other parts of Ireland have either voluntarily or otherwise done; to deprive the people of a country of the opportunity to link with the heritage of the oldest written language of Europe which is still in daily vernacular use.

You seem to say that the study of our own language in some way is a hindrance to the study of the other subjects and ideas mentioned. I would hesitate myself to make such a bold claim as to put such a limit to the ability of the human intellect.

I think that is the tragedy of this way of thinking reflects the attitude described by our President some years ago when he referred to those “for whom Irish was not half dead enough.” (2010).

Indeed our first President stated unequivocally many year ago: "the Irish language is worth knowing, or why would the greatest philologists of Germany, France, and Italy be emulously studying it, and it does possess a literature, or why would a German savant have made the calculation that the books written in Irish between the eleventh and seventeenth centuries, and still extant, would fill a thousand octavo volumes." (1882)

Is it still worth knowing?

Recently a project on modern Irish writers has been published with portraits and short biographies. These can truly be described as Irish writers in the tradtions of those scholors and writers who went before like Céitinn and Raifteirí etc. Yet so many of their fellow country men and women are ignorant of this flowering of Irish literature. Look it up on line at portraidi.ie (It is English as well as in our own language!).

Are they wasting their time writing prose and poetry for our delight and sometimes enlightenment?

An American professor in the field of mathamathics has been involved with others in translating the various platforms facebook, twitter, etc for use with Irish - I use both and they work fine. Users may choose Irish as their language of choice on their mobile phones. Firefox, the popular browsing platform is available in Irish as are Microsoft programs.

Are they wasting their money?

Almost 8000 people follow the Gaeilge Amháin facebook page and they are by no means all Irish by blood. I have seen Japanese, Dutch, Americans, Russia, English and Finnish contributors among others.

Should this be classed as "zero universal (as in cross-national) value?"

Me? I am not competent to discuss the merits of bi-lingualism and there are many studies that may be found using Google I do know from my own experience that my life has been enriched by my knowledge of English and a also of Latin and through this knowledge I have a smattering of German and make my way through the Latin-languages. I also find I have an little understanding of the Scottish languages and even Welsh which comes from the enriching influence of learning the National Language.

Quite frankly I was shocked at the defensive - or was it hostile? – of these dozen or so tweets. English, still less the fabric of Irish society is not damaged by our love or our learning of our own language. On the contrary losing our linguistic sovereignty – a cornerstone of our cultural identity, heritage and soul as a nation - is a clear and present danger. (vide Seán Ó Cuirreáin's final address to an Oireachtas Committee Jan 2013)

I am sad that you do not appear to understand that."

Monday, November 7, 2016

I will not yield!

During the celebrations to mark the 20th birthday of TG4 (Halloween 2016) a short piece was broadcast featuring the talented actress Bríd Ní Neachtain. It was penned by Niamh Ní Bhaoill, and expresses strongly the frustration of the Irish speaking and Gaeltacht community within their own country.  This is the video and below is a translation in English.

We have put the original language in a box on the right so people can follow the text as Bríd speaks it if they wish!

What is wrong with us anyway?
Céard atá cearr linn ar aon chaoi?

An bhfuil ár gcloigne sáite chomh fada sin suas ár gcuid tónacha nach dtuigeann muid go bhfuil an todhchaí tagtha cheana féin? An bhfuil ár dteanga caillte againn? Sin sin! Ró-mhall! Chaill muid an cath. Nó ar chaill?

An cath a bhí ann ar aon chaoi? Cé a dúirt gurb ea?

Nach mbeadh sé iontach a bheith in ann do theanga féin a labhairt is gan a bheith ag streachailt leis i gcónaí? Gan a bheith ag troid ar son cearta? Gan a bheith ag éileamh seirbhísí? Gan a bheith dod' chur féin soir leis? Gan a bheith go síoraí á cosaint? Nárbh fhearr i bhfad an t-airgead a chaitheamh ar ospidéil, nó bóithre, aon rud eile, deir siad linn. Níor chóir go mbeadh iachall ar dhaoine í a fhoghlaim ar scoil, dar leo. Iachall? Tá mé a cheapadh go bhfuair a chuile dhuine a chaith coicís saoire riamh i Sasana an "exemption". Seans go bhfaighinn féin ceann dá mbeinn á iarraidh.

Agus céard atá fágtha dóibh siúd atá ag iarraidh staidéar a dhéanamh ar an nGaeilge? Leagan chomh cúng, chomh bunúsach, chomh simplí gur ar éigin go bhfuil aon bhlas dár litríocht, dár bhfilíocht, dár saibhreas teangan fágtha chun go gcuirfeadh ár scoláirí aithne uirthi, go mbeadh deis acu titim i ngrá léi.

Tá sé i bhfad níos éasca gan a bheith i do ghaeilgeoir, gan aon dualgas ort foirmeacha dothuigthe a líonadh isteach ar líne, gan a bheith ag fanacht le "do ghnó a dhéanamh trí Ghaeilge", agus ar deireadh thiar thall nuair a fhaigheanns tú duine, nach mbíonn a fhios ag an diabhal bocht céard atá á rá agat?

Ba bhreá liom éirí maidin eicint agus nach mbeadh orm m'ainm a litriú go deo arís, nach gcuirfeadh éinne ceist orm "Cad é an béarla air sin?"

Gread leat! Is é m'ainm é! Is é an t-aon ainm amháin atá agam.

Ní ghéillfidh mise.

Is í mo theanga í!

Are our heads so long stuck up our arses that we don't understand that the future has already come?

Have we lost our language (tongue)? That's that! Too late! We lost the battle. Or did we? Was it a battle anyway? Who said it was?

Wouldn't it be wonderful to be able to speak your own language and not be always struggling? Not to be fighting for rights? Not to be demanding services? Not to be driving yourself mad with it? Not to be constantly defending it? Would it not be a lot better to spend the money on hospitals, or roads, anything else, they tell us. It is not proper that people should be forced to learn it at school, according to them. Forced? It seems to me that everyone who ever spent a fortnight's holiday in England got the exemption. Perhaps I would get one myself if I wanted it.

And what is left for those who want to study the Irish language? A version so narrow, so basic, so simple that there is hardly anything of our literature, of our poetry, of our linguistic richness left in order for the students to get to know it, so that they might have an opportunity to fall in love with it.

It is a lot easier not to be an Irish speaker, no duty to fill out unintelligible forms online, no waiting to "do your business through the medium of Irish" and finally when you do get somebody, that the poor divil does not know what you are saying.

I would like to get up some morning and not have to ever spell my name again, that no one would ask me "What is that in English?"

Feck off! It's my name! It's the only name I have!

I will not yield.

It's my language!

Bear in mind that some of the subtleties of language are always lost in translation and indeed words regarded as unacceptable in English polite society are fine in other languages (and vice versa!). Emphasis in one language may be lost in the second, for example "Mise" is a far more emphatic word than "mé" though both are usually translated as the English word "I."

• See translation here too with word/phrase guide.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Bring back the tally stick!

Bar worker leaves his job on receiving warning not to speak Irish.

Official Statement tweeted by The Flying Enterprise. (9/9/2016 - note incorrect English used!)
I had Raidío na Gaeltachta on shortly before lunchtime today. I wasn't really listening to it it was just on when I suddenly heard something that I thought had been banished with the arrival of independance. The banning of the use of the national language.

Cormac at RnaG
The programme was Saol ó Dheas, which is an hour of programming from the south of the country every day. (I usually listen to the programmes for the West since I live there but I usually leave the radio on while working and sometimes, as in this case, I hear something that attracts my attention from the other areas like later today I was transfixed by the Haka on Rónán Beo - and he was - look at his Facebook page if you don't believe me!)

‘This is an English-speaking business’ – oibrí beáir éirithe as a phost i gCorcaigh tar éis rabhadh a fháil gan Gaeilge a labhairt. (Tuairisc.ie, 8/9/2016)
Cosc ar oibrí tábhairne i gCorcaigh Gaeilge a labhairt. (RTÉ, 8/9/2016)
In a further article a prominent lawyer gives an opinion on the legal position. (Tuairisc.ie, 9/9/2016)
Fired for speaking Irish in Irelands English only pub. (ASR-9/9/2016)
A barman from the Gaeltacht has been banned from speaking Irish in a Cork pub. (The Journal - 9/9/2016)
Irish barman told to stop speaking Irish language in Cork pub (Belfast Telegraph 9/9/2016)
'This is an English-speaking business' - Young Gaeilgeoir told to stop speaking native language in Irish pub. (Irish Independent - 9/9/2016)
Irish speaking barman leaves job after being told ‘not to speak’ Irish. (Irish Times-9/9/2016)
Cork pub 'surprised' after former employee claims he quit after being told not to speak Irish. (Irish Examiner-9/9/2016)
Not Allowed To Speak Irish In Ireland - A Nasty Reminder Of British Colonialism (TransCeltic - 9/9/2016)
A barman from the Gaeltacht has been banned from speaking Irish in a Cork pub (Francais Express - 9/9/2016)
Call for legal protection for Irish speaking workers following Cork bar issue (Examiner - 10/9/2016)
Personiel Ierske kroech mei gjin Iersk prate (It Nijs - 10/9/2016)
Caithfear reachtaíocht láidir a bheith ann chun cearta teanga a neartú (Sinn Féin 10/9/2016)
Irish-speaking barman chose to leave his job (Examiner - 10/9/2016)
Barman ‘cannot believe’ reaction to story about Irish in work (Irish Times  - 10/9/2016)
Cormac Ó Bruic is a young man working in Cork city. Apparently he was forbidden from speaking his own language in his place of work, a language which is the National Language. This man is from an Irish speaking area. He was wont to speak with another member of staff from his home place in their language and also with others in the staff who were able to use Irish. He was puzzled that somebody in Ireland would insist that he desist from using this language.

He found it totally incomprehensible that, as was alleged, a complaint was received because he used his own language.  His own experience was that customers appreciated and indeed were delighted to hear it been spoken and he often spoke it with customers who had some familiarity with it or who were from Gaeltacht areas.

When contacted by the programme management stated that he had been warned about speaking Irish and thay as they employed several nationalities and that chaos would ensue if they all spoke in their own language. It did not matter if it was the National language as  ‘English-speaking business!"

Cormac could not fathom, nor can he yet, this attitude. "I would not work in that place again!' he declared.

The establishment in question, Cork's The Flying Enterprise, was also contacted by the Radio station and an incredibly narrow minded viewpoint was shown by the management there.

People must speak a certain language in the same way as they must wear special clothing in the bar. There was a "Language Code" in use in this tavern, “because it is a hospitality business”. When he was reminded by the interviewer that Irish is the national language of Ireland the reposte was "We're all Europeans!"

Maybe this attitude will change when that nation, whose language English is, leaves the European Union!

Don't hold your breadth!

Note on the tally stick: