Friday, April 23, 2010


Article 8 of the Constitution of Ireland states that:
    “The Irish language as the national language is the first official language.”
This 20-year Strategy for the Irish language is built on the foundation of the Constitutional status of the language and follows on the Government’s Policy Statement on Irish published in December 2006. That Statement affirmed the Government’s support for the development and preservation of the Irish language and the Gaeltacht and set out 13 policy objectives to that end:
    Objective 1: The special status given to the Irish language in the Constitution and in legislation such as the Official Languages Act 2003, the Education Act 1998, the Planning and Development Act 2000 and the Broadcasting Act 2009(Now the Broadcasting Act 2009) will be upheld.

    Objective 2: The Official Languages Act will be fully implemented. The right of the public to use Irish in dealings with the State and with other bodies will be developed and the appropriate arrangements to deliver this will be put in place.

    Objective 3: The Irish language community inside and outside the Gaeltacht will be given encouragement and support to transmit Irish to the next generation as a living household language. Towards this end, a wide range of services in Irish will be provided.

    Objective 4: The Gaeltacht will be given special support as an Irish-speaking area.

    Objective 5: Irish will be taught as an obligatory subject from primary to Leaving Certificate level. The curriculum will foster oral and written competence in Irish among students and an understanding of its value to us as a people. This will be supported by enhanced investment in professional development and ongoing support for teachers, as well as in provision of textbooks and resources, and support for innovative approaches to teaching and learning.

    Objective 6: A high standard of all-Irish education will be provided to school students whose parents/guardians so wish. Gaelscoileanna will continue to be supported at primary level and all-Irish provision at post-primary level will be developed to meet follow-on demand.

    Objective 7: Irish language pre-school education will continue to be supported and third-level education through Irish will be further developed.

    Objective 8: The State will continue to support Foras na Gaeilge in the context of the British-Irish Agreement Act 1999.

    Objective 9: High quality broadcast services through the medium of Irish will be ensured, especially through the continuous development of RTÉ, Raidió na Gaeltachta and TG4.

    Objective 10: Every assistance and support will be given to the European Union in implementing the decision to make Irish a working and official language in the EU from 1 January 2007.

    Objective 11: In order to promote Irish nationally and to preserve and strengthen it in the Gaeltacht, the work being done by the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs and by agencies and bodies which come under its aegis will continue to be reinforced.

    Objective 12: The use of the Irish language by the Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces will be continued and developed.

    Objective 13: The Government recognises the vital role of the Irish language voluntary sector and will continue to support it.
It is also an objective of Government to support the promotion and teaching of Irish abroad, through the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. Particular emphasis has been placed on supporting the teaching of Irish in third-level colleges in a range of different countries.

In broad terms, therefore, the elements that make up the modern-day context for the Irish language include the following:
  • • Ireland is a bilingual State in which Irish is the first official language in accordance with Article 8 of the Constitution of Ireland.
  • • In the context of our European heritage, Irish is the oldest spoken literary language in Europe.
  • • According to the 2006 Census of Population, 42% of the population of Ireland have a certain ability to speak Irish – that equates to some 1.66 million people aged 3 years or more out of a total resident population of some 4.2 million.
  • • Irish is the main community and household language of 3% of the country’s population.
  • • According to surveys and opinion polls, most of the population believes that Irish is of particular importance for themselves personally and/or for the country as a whole.
  • • Irish was afforded official and working language status at EU level with effect from 1 January 2007.
This Strategy seeks to build on the foregoing context and objectives by setting out a series of areas for action to benefit the language and the Gaeltacht over the next 20 years. The Government believes that the Irish language is of particular importance for the people, society and culture of Ireland. As a spoken community language, Irish is unique to this country and is, therefore, of crucial importance to the identity of the Irish people and to world heritage.

This Strategy is underpinned by an analysis of the situation facing the Irish language, undertaken on behalf of the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs by a team of international consultants with expertise on language issues, led by DCU Fiontar. This analysis is being published separately. In relation to the Gaeltacht, the approach in this Strategy has been informed by recommendations in the Report of the Linguistic Study of the Use of Irish in the Gaeltacht, undertaken on behalf of the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs by Acadamh na hOllscolaíochta, University College Galway.

The Strategy has also been supported by a study undertaken by Fr. Micheál Mac Gréil and Fergal Rhatigan of the Department of Sociology NUI Maynooth on Attitudes towards Competence in and Use of the Irish Language 2007-2008. The study results show that positive attitudes and aspirations for Irish have been maintained at very high levels since the author’s previous studies in 1973 (Prejudice and Tolerance In Ireland) and 1996 (Prejudice in Ireland Revisited). The results show overwhelming support for preservation of Irish: 52.5% want Irish preserved in the Gaeltacht and revived for use in arts and culture outside, while 40.9% want Irish revived and used for public purposes throughout the State.

International perspectives
The value of linguistic diversity is recognised internationally. Languages are humankind’s principle tools for interacting and for expressing ideas, emotions, knowledge, memories and values. Languages are also primary vehicles of cultural expressions and intangible cultural heritage, essential to the identity of individuals and groups. The key role of language in the expression and transmission of cultural heritage is recognised in the United Nations 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage.
Safeguarding languages such as Irish is thus a crucial task in maintaining cultural diversity worldwide. UNESCO reports that half of the 6,700 languages spoken today are in danger of disappearing before the century ends, a process that can be slowed only if urgent action is taken by Governments and speaker communities. UNESCO’s Endangered Languages Programme mobilizes international cooperation to focus attention on this grave situation and to promote innovative solutions from communities, experts and authorities. The most recent edition of the UNESCO Atlas of Endangered Languages (pdf) classified Irish as “definitely endangered”. This status has since been improved to “vulnerable”, in the light of information about the measures taken by Government to support the language in recent years.

The 2003 UN Convention recognizes the vital role of language in the expression and transmission of living heritage. All intangible cultural heritage depends on language for its day-to-day vitality and for being passed on to the next generation. In relation to oral traditions, whether it be song, poetry or folklore, language is not only the vehicle that contains the cultural heritage, it is its very essence. As well as analysing the situation of languages under pressure the world over, UNESCO has developed a framework for determining the vitality of a language in order to assist Governments and others in policy development, identification of needs and appropriate safeguarding measures. This framework based on the following nine criteria has also informed the development of this Strategy:
The Government’s strategy as set out in this document is organised around
  • • increasing the knowledge of Irish;
  • • creating opportunities for the use of Irish; and
  • • fostering positive attitudes towards its use.
We know from the situation that faces Irish that language use does not follow automatically from ability to speak the language. Actual language use results from the co-presence of ability, opportunity, and positive attitudes. This Strategy seeks, therefore, to create positive circumstances for greater use by our people of the language ability that they have and for a real increase in that ability over time.

The Strategy demonstrates the Government’s support for the development and preservation of the Irish language by a long-term commitment to a coherent and comprehensive approach to the future of the language as a living, spoken language with a firm position in the educational system, at the highest levels of our political system and in our public administration and in the Gaeltacht.

As already stated, Irish is part of the culture and heritage of Northern Ireland and the promotion and protection of the language there is a priority for the Government.

In the context of the Government’s continuing commitment to the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, it will continue to support Foras na Gaeilge, the North/South implementation body charged with promoting the language on an all-island basis, and to ensure its continued effective operation. The Government’s Strategy will have a beneficial impact on speakers of the Irish language in Northern Ireland. The Government will also continue to press for the full implementation of commitments relating to the Irish language, which fall to the British Government and the Northern Ireland Executive, including the introduction of an Irish Language Act and the enhancement protection and development of the Irish language in Northern Ireland.

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