Friday, February 18, 2011

Donegal Gaeltacht community confronts Fine Gael!

Gráinne Mhic Géidigh addresses the meeting
 Tuairisc ar an gcruinniú i nGaeilge

A large crowd of 150 attended the public meeting organised by Guth na Gaeltachta and Coiste Mhná Tí Thír Chonaill in An Chrannóg, Gaoth Dobhair, on Tuesday 15 February. The meeting was chaired by Éamonn Mac Niallais and he got proceedings underway shortly after 7:00pm. He explained that the purpose of the meeting was primarily to discuss Fine Gael’s policy of ending the compulsory status of Irish in the Leaving Certificate.

After introducing the guest speakers: Dinny Mc Ginley TD (Fine Gael), Pearse Doherty TD (Sinn Féin), Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill (Fianna Fáil), John Duffy and Seán Ó Maolchallann (Green Party) Mac Niallais relayed apologies  from An Tánaiste Mary Coughlan and Councillor Frank McBrearty (Labour). The chairman then read out the statement he had received from Councillor McBrearty. The content of that letter set the tone for the night i.e. vehement opposition to Fine Gael’s policy!

Before hearing from the guest speakers, Mac Niallais outlined the work Guth na Gaeltachta had been involved in since its last public meeting and the impartial role that it was undertaking as a non-political cross-party support group for the Irish language and the Gaeltacht. He explained the critical importance of the Leaving Certificate in the Irish education system as a whole and how Fine Gael’s policy would have a disastrous impact on the role of the Irish language throughout the system, not just for the Leaving Cert.  As a result, the future for the Irish Summer Colleges and the very economic viability of Gaeltacht communities would be severly threatened. This view was strongly echoed by Gráinne Mhic Géidigh who was representing the Mná Tí.

Seán Ó Maolchallann, acting as a spokesperson for John Duffy, outlined the Green Party’s policy  on the Irish language. He finished by saying that their party was 150% opposed to Fine Gael’s policy! Pearse Doherty TD referred to the launch of Sinn Féin’s Irish language proposals outside Fine Gael HQ earlier that day. He expressed his party’s dismay at Fine Gael’s policy and spoke of the terrible economic consequences for Gaeltacht communities.

"...uncomfortable with the
Dinny McGinley TD was the next to speak. He spoke of his personal opposition to any attempt to harm the Gaeltacht or the language.  He emphasised that he remained to be convinced that Fine Gael’s policy would not be harmful to both but that he was waiting to see what the outcome would be of the research and consultation process that Enda Kenny had promised.  He said however that there were many positive measures in Fine Gael’s policy as well and he stressed his own commitment to the language and his efforts to use Irish as often as possible in Dáil proceedings. He stated that he was uncomfortable with the policy but that research such as the Comprehensive Linguistic Survey of 2007 showed that the future of the Irish language was in jeopardy unless radical steps were taken.

Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill was the last of the politicians to speak. He outlined the progress made in recent years: TG4, Foras na Gaeilge, Official Languages Act, EU status and the 20 Year Strategy. He voiced his party’s opposition to Fine Gael’s policy and, like other speakers, referred to the negative economic impact such a change would have on Gaeltacht areas.  

After hearing from all the politicians the chair invited questions from the audience. It was clear from the first speaker that Fine Gael’s policy is a very sore point amongst the Gaeltacht community.

Speaker after speaker left McGinley in no doubt that the community is very upset and worried about the Fine Gael proposal. He was asked to explain how his party had arrived at such a decision; had it been carefully considered or was it a populist move designed to attract votes in urban areas?

One of the most robust exchanges of the night saw McGinley admit that he had never been consulted on the formulation of Fine Gael’s Irish language policy. He was also at a loss to explain what specific research had been used by the party in devising its policy. McGinley attempted to calm the audience’s fears by saying that that he hoped proper consultation and research would be carried out before any changes were made to the status of Irish.

Éamonn Mac Niallais asked that Deputy McGinley do as other Fine Gael candidates in the Kerry and Galway Gaeltacht had already done and express openly to Enda Kenny his opposition to this policy.  He brought the meeting to a close after the question and answer session. He thanked everyone for attending and urged everyone to sign the online petition against Fine Gael’s proposal. He also appealed to people to raise the issue of the Irish language with all politicians when they come looking for votes and to attend next Monday’s public meeting in Ionad Naomh Pádraig, Dobhar to raise the issue again.

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