Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Crisis point for voluntary language sector!

Statement from recent past Presidents of Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge on the New Funding Model proposed by Foras na Gaeilge

We, former Presidents of Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge, which represents 24 member organisations, wish to make the following statement at this critical time for the Irish Language Voluntary Sector.

The Facts
Locked up!
1. A vibrant community voluntary sector is an integral part of modern democratic politics and is recognised as such across the world. In emerging democracies, external assistance is often provided to ensure participation in the state by organised civil society, as was provided by the EU in the case of former communist states in Eastern Europe.

2. However, the Irish Language Voluntary Movement and associated organisations are intricately bound up with the gestation and birth of a free Ireland and the subsequent development of our sovereign state’s language policies. These policies were not alone pioneering in their time but undertaken at a time of straitened economic circumstances. Under its differing facets, the Irish Language Voluntary sector has served the State well in the implementation of the community aspects of those policies as well as in its role, unique to the voluntary sector, of representing the wishes of Irish-speaking citizens to the State. Its place in Irish society is much more than is conveyed by the epithet ‘third sector’. Indeed, when the new political agency or quango, Foras na Gaeilge, was set up with the intention of rebalancing the position of the Irish language in Northern Ireland, the funding functions of the responsible Minister in respect of 8 voluntary organisations, north and south, were transferred by the 1999 Act to the new agency.

3. As the proverb states, Is mór idir inné agus inniu! (a lot has changed between then and now). The State is now probably in as poor a position as when establishing policies for the Irish language at its inception. The voluntary State-aided sector understands this and is willing to make any appropriate responses required but only through an agreed participative process and only in those policy areas which will not ultimately prove detrimental to the future development of the language north and south. Social, cultural and intellectual activities require appropriate criteria in deciding what is ‘value for money’.

4. The response of the funding agency, Foras na Gaeilge, in unilaterally moving from core funding to open competitive short-term project funding is a crude instrument of change which will have long-term invidious consequences for the Irish language north and south.

5. The response of the North South Ministerial Council to this advice tendered by Foras na Gaeilge must, of necessity, have been founded on incomplete information since the Council received no representations from those most affected by the proposed change, whether as funded organisations or as beneficiaries of the work of those organisations.

6. If the 20-Year Strategy for Irish (Irish) and the new approaches in NI are to succeed, it is in and through the community and the experience of community organisations that that will happen.

7. Whether intended or unintended, the real consequences of the new funding model proposed by Foras na Gaeilge is the demise of long-founded and hard-working voluntary organisations.

8. As past Presidents of a representative advocacy and service body founded in 1943, we feel there must be more solutions than that proposed by Foras na Gaeilge. The Irish language and its communities of speakers need, and deserve, both continuing service and new initiatives. We make the following suggestions, both funding and structural, towards a solution acceptable to all.

9. A budget will be required to undertake the occasional schemes proposed. Such a budget could be divided in a number of ways.

9.1 Method 1:
Ringfence a specific three year block budget for the work of the organisations in the community, and establish a Joint Committee consisting of representatives elected by the organisations and representatives elected by Foras na Gaeilge, to administer the Budget under strict conditions. Method 1 would allow Foras na Gaeilge staff the opportunity to work in other areas of Irish language promotion.

9.2 Method 2:
 In conjunction with the block budget above, a separate budget to be administered by Foras na Gaeilge on a competitive schemes basis, such as those already administered by the organisation.

10. In conclusion, it is pointless to initiate a public consultation process as proposed on such an important matter if it is not intended to investigate alternatives, including the status quo, and allow a democratic outcome.

Our structural proposal then is the establishment of an ad hoc representative group, having an independent chair, to discuss possibilities and reach an agreed solution, based on all the available facts, to put before the North South Ministerial Council.

Is sinne le meas,
Helen Ó Murchú (1995 – 1998) (2010 – 2011)
P.T. Mac Ruairí (2004 – 2010)
Caitríona Ní Cheallaigh (2001 – 2004)
Pádraig Mac Donncha (1998 – 2001)
Liam Mac Mathúna (1992 – 1995)
Pádraig Ó Ceithearnaigh (1987 – 1992)

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Who cares?

Now an then in our blogs we refer to the American blogger Seth Godin. They are usually short, to the point and with short pithy sentances that say a lot in few words.

The message on a Blue Shirt!
Yesterday he had one which displayed in a few words our own thoughts and indeed the oft expressed views of the Coimisinéir Teanga on the topic of Irish in the civil service (and indeed public companies). Even though Godin was talking about service in hotels it could mutatis mutandis also be applied to the service that Irish speakers whether in the Gaeltacht or outside from the state.

"It's obviously not about access to capital (doing it right doesn't cost more). It's about caring enough to make an effort."

And further on he says,

"Of course, the manager of the mediocre hotel that's reading this, the staff member of the mediocre restaurant that just got forwarded this note - they have a great excuse. Time's are tough, money is tight, the team wasn't hired by me, nobody else cares, I'm only going to be doing this gig for a year, our customers are jerks... who cares?

We like Seth Godin!

"I believe that the language is continuously being edged aside, pushed towards the margins of society and that includes much of the public sector. I would not support the premise that the fault lies primarily with politicians but it appears to me, notwithstanding those within the State sector who support the language, that there are stronger and more widespread forces in place who have little or no concern for the future of our national language." (Seán Ó Cuirreáin, The Language Commissioner, 23 Jan 2014)

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Making the language act safe!

The last two months have seen an extraordinary amount of anxiety about the current Government's lack of interest providing a reasonable, if not an equal status, to the only language that we in Ireland can call our own. This anxiety has been reflected almost exclusively in the Irish language media and largly ingnored by the English language media in Ireland.

The language used by the writers of the Stowe Missal
(13 centuries ago)is still used today in Ireland. 
Will this government hasten its demise?
Three body blows?
It has already made three decisions which lessen the status of Irish in the past six months.
• It demoted the Department as an important and main responsibility of a department with responsibility for community matters to a small subsection of a Department responsible for matters such as arts and heritage.
• It has abolished the obligation to publish legislation in both official languages
• It has decided to emasculate the office of the Language Commissioner by merging it's functions with those of the office of the Ombudsman. This latter decision makes little sense for at least two reasons. The first is that it will not save money in fact - on the admission of the Junior Minister who now holds responsibility for such matters - it will actually cost money (Seanad Éireann Debates, 24 November 2011, Vol.211, No.12). See  also Austerity and Irish language rights on the Human Rights Ireland site!

The Language Act, which was passed after five years of deliberation in 2003, has a clause which calls for a review of the act and this has been been requested on their website but with little publicity in the English Language. The site with the survey questionnaire and forms in English is here: Review of Official Languages Act 2003. The deadline for these recommendations is next Tuesday 31st January 2012.

• See Irish Rights are equal rights - so fight back! (24/1/2012)

Monday, January 23, 2012

Save money! Close the countryside!

Scoil an Tuairín ar an Aoine! (Pic: Irish Times)
Last December we spoke about the devastating decisions being made by the Irish Department of Education on the Gaeltacht Schools in 90% of Gaeltacht Schools to close! Gradually the message is sinking into the rural districts throughout the country that this decision is going to effect their schools too. Huge (in rural terms) meetings have been held or are been held, demonstrations and letters are been written, politicians are been button-holed about this and other matters.

Ruairí Quinn! Éist linn!
An article in last weekend's Sunday Independent, For the sake of our future we must swim upstream, gives a vivid picture of the unease which is now been felt throughout rural Ireland and indeed now it is becoming apparent that other details of these grants are going to effect urban educational services especially where the education of the most challenging kind, to those who have difficulties in using the more regularly available services - those who ahve particular or "special" needs. It gives a horribly hollow sound to the promise contained in our Declaration of Independnce:

"...to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and all of its parts, cherishing all of the children of the nation equally and oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien government, which have divided a minority from the majority in the past."

Little by little rural, Irish or English speaking areas are been alienated by the Irish government. People who pay taxes, who have contributed to the effluent treatment services are being singled out to pay themselves for inspection of their own treatment facilities. and perhaps to pay entirely from their own resources for any adjustments deemed to be required. If there is something found wanting in the effluent treatment facilities of a local authority plant the tax payer - all tax payers, rural and urban, will pay until it is put right.

Gaeltacht areas have the additional problem of the lack of services in their own language. If a person is ill he cannot have a guarantee of service in his own language. If a child has speech problems he has to change his home language to English in order to have the services of a speech therapist!  We have discussed some of thes in our blog, "Open letter to Senators."

Police stations, post offices, health services, (The HSE dental services have been withdrawn from Ceathrú Rua in the past week), even local authority offices are being withdrawn. Planning permissions are becoming more and more restricted to protect special areas of conversations either real are imagined. They are even being forbidden from harvesting the fuel that for generations they have used to heat their homes. All these decisions are been made by people who haven't a clue about the areas in which they are being considered.

Look at the map guys!
Two instances we have heard which display this ludicrous lack of knowledge:

The telephone box in Cill Rónáin was being withdrawn and prior to it withdrawal a notice appeared advising that fact and stating the the nearest telephone box after its withdrawal would be available in Roundstone! Look at the map guys!

The Department of Education has suggested - unofficially? - that the schools in Leitir Móir, Leitir Chaladh, Tír an Fhia, Leitir Mealáin, An Tuairín and maybe others be amalgamated as follows, Infants in Leitir Chaladh, Ages 7 to 10 in Leitir Móir and final years primary school in Tír an Fhia. This sort of solution in a Munster area is mentioned in the Independent article too. Look at the map guys!

And we've just been informed of more idiotic decisions notified to the people by the health authority. As is their wont, they did not have the good manners to communicate their decision in the language of the people.

"HSE announces reorganisation of dental services in Connemara
23 January 2012

From next month, the dental services provided in Connemara will be reorganised. Alternative arrangements are being made to replace the one day a week service currently provided from the Health Centre in Carna.

Dr Joe O’Connor, Principal Dental Surgeon for Galway explained the reasons for the reorganisation, “We are short staffed and unable to replace staff who leave the service due to the public sector moratorium on recruitment.

“Also, in order to continue to meet the national standards on infection control within the resources available, we need to relocate the Carna dental service. The clinic in Carraroe was recently upgraded and works are currently underway at the clinic in Clifden to meet the national standards on infection control.

“At the moment there is a limited service provided by a dental hygienist in Carraroe and from February, a dental team will be in Carraroe for one day a week to provide an elective and emergency service to the area.

“By moving the one day dental service from Carna to Carraroe we are able to reorganise our staffing and equipment to maximise the limited resources available.”

Patients who currently attend the one day a week clinic in Carna will be asked to attend clinics in Clifden or Carraroe. The dental team will contact patients to re-arrange appointments in Clifden or Carraroe; nine National Schools are served by the clinic in Carna.

Patients with questions should contact the Dental Clinic in the Clifden Health Centre on 095 21102.

Those who know the area will understand the lack of understanding of the area, never mind the cutting back of the services that permits treatment for the whole area to one day in the week, but their bland requirement for people, especially children to travel long journeys on narrow not to say dangerous roads is breathtaking. Local Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh expresses the worry of parents and patients when he says "The children of the area are being unfairly targeted due to the harsh cutbacks and the moratorium on recruitment in the HSE. This is inequitable, unfair and unacceptable. It is also very unfair to expect people to bear the extra travel costs pertaining to attending the basic services as outlined below which could have a detrimental long term effect on their health." Or as we say above: Look at the map guys!

Éamon de Valera spoke in his much laughed at address in 1943 about a countryside dotted with "cozy homesteads." It is clear that the government, Brussels and our planning authorities have these neighbourhoods in their sights.  Will they succeed where the famine and the might of imperial power all but failed? 

• See also "A second class education for second class pupils!" (23/1/2012) agus Lorna Siggans san Irish Times: "Gaeltacht parents oppose teacher ratio changes in smaller primary schools" (23/1/2012)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Open letter to Senators!

Open letter to members of Seanad Éireann on the occasion of debate on Irish and the Gaeltacht!

Dear Senator

I understand that the Seanad is to have a discussion on Irish and the Gaeltacht this afternoon.

I would like to make some points in English and would ask you to forgive any gramatical or other  errors in this paper.

As someone who lives in the Gaeltacht I believe that the language adn the very fabric of society here are being catastrophically threatened by the policys of the current administration.

The demotion of the Department of the Gaeltacht into an Art and Heritage sub set from a more sensible position as a component of Community Development. The Gaeltacht is a community not a museum, art gallery or heritage site. It's spokesman is now a Junior Minister who however well-intentioned has NO input into cabinet decisions concerning his people.

The Language Acht, by no means a perfect piece of legislation, is being steadily watered down and dissassembled. The first straw in the wind was the abolition of the right to have legislation introduced simultaneously into law. The second was the inexplicable decisiion to merge the office of the Language Commissioner into the Ombudsman's Office, a move which even the Junior Minister McGinley admits will cost the State money. In addition the fact that the Ombudsman's office is non-compliant with the law in matters under the responsibility of the Language Commissioner doues not auger well for the new arrangement. The Ombudsman's Office finding itself in breach of the law would be laughable.

Laws in other areas also add to the dangers. May I list those I know of:

1. Proposed legislation to tax on septic tanks only apply to rural areas - where the majority of Gaeltacht Areas are. (I have no problem with the proposed Household Tax in principle rather do I have a problem with the method of its introduction and how it is calculated!)

2. The uncertainty and probable abolition of the representative nature of Údarás na Gaeltachta will lessen if not totally erode the relevence of this body. It does need reform but giving the responsibility to local County Councils to appoint the board is false democracy.

3. Perhaps the most frightening threat from this Government is the decision on rural schools. This effects the Gaeltacht Areas severly. Under this legislation it looks like over eighty schools will close. Places like the Kerry Gaeltacht will leave one rural school as 13 out of 14 fail to reach the new target. In my own area over half the small schools will be closed/merged. Two will close in Múscraí, 28 in Donegal and 2 of the three in the Waterford Gaeltacht will close. In recent discussions between the Parents and public representatives it was apparant that those making the decision in the Department of Education had no idea of the effect or even of the geographic locations of the schools they are closing.

4. Another point about the Department of Education is the fact that only 1% of the staff of that Department are able to provide a service to these Gaeltacht (or any Gaelscoil) Schools.

5. Services like speech-therepy and other health services are by-and-large not available to children and grown-ups in their home language.

6. So-called "environmental issues" like no planning for single rural homes, turf-cutting, special areas of conservation etc are also restrictions which impact in various ways on various Gaeltacht areas.

7. The debacle of the introduction of the houshold tax is merely a reflection of the thoughtlessness in administration. As of this morning the form to register for this tax is unavailable either on-line or in local authority offices.

Finally there is no good example being provided by political, ecclesiastical or other leaders. For instance when was a contribution to discussions on any subject except the language itself ever held in the Dáil or Seanad, not to mention Local Authority. Indeed the only elected State Body which holds its meetings in Irish, Údarás na Gaeltachta, is apparantly sheduled for castration.

The Oireachtas, the Parliament of Ireland has NEVER to my knowledge issued a press release in Irish yet there are at least six media outlets for such releases. If they wish to transmit any news of the Oireachtas, debates or committee they must translate these from their own resources!

The requirements of Gaeltacht Areas are by an large those of many other Rurl Areas excepot they require them in Irish. There are little or no cost implications in this as it only requires personnal who are competant in the language who can speak and write it. In fact if any of the above

I've tried to compress thoughts here and there may be other points which could be made but I think there is enough to go on in the above.

Thank you for your attention and I hope you are successful in catching the Chair's eye in this debate!

Eoin Ó Riain
Irish Citizen
Caorán na gCearc,
Baile na hAbhann
Co na Gaillimhe

• A letter from Guth na Gaeltachta with these points and also some others is available on Gaeltacht21: Guth na Gaeltachta chuig an Seanad (Irish 18/2/2012)

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Independence of Coimisinéir Teanga strongly supported!

“Office of the Irish Language Commissioner must retain its independence” declare speakers at Tóstal na Gaeilge 2012

Review of the Official Languages Act
The Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht proposes to draft its first Irish language Scheme in accordance with Section 11 of the Official Languages Act 2003. The primary objective of the Act is to ensure better availability and a higher standard of public services through Irish.

The Department now wishes to invite representations in relation to the preparation of the Scheme from interested parties. Written submissions, preferably in electronic format, should be forwarded by email to sean.coleman@ahg.gov.ie. Alternatively, they may be posted to 
Seán Coleman, Corporate Development, Department of Arts Heritage and the Gaeltacht, New Road, Killarney, Co Kerry.
At Tóstal na Gaeilge 2012, which took place in Dublin today organised by Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge, national and international experts were agreed for the successful implementation of the Official Languages Act, it is critical the Office of the Language Commissioner retain its independence and not be merged with any other state department or agency.

‘Fortifying the Status of the Irish Language’ was the theme of Tóstal na Gaeilge this year, and the international speakers Professor Colin Williams (Wales), Dr. Wilson McLeod (Scotland) and Professor François Grin (Switzerland) emphasised the importance of the independence of the Office of the Language Commissioner to enhance the status of the language under the Language Act, and said that the public could not have confidence in such an office it were not completely independent.

Among those who spoke during An Tóstal were, Language Commissioner, Seán Ó Cuirreáin, and Séamus Mac Giolla Chomhail, Principle Officer with the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, as well as academic experts in the areas of language planning and sociolinguistics, and local language activists.

Speaker after speaker throughout the day commented that the lack of progression in ratifying and implementing new schemes under the current system is a demonstration of both a reluctance within Public Bodies to fully implement schemes, and of the failure of the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht to effectively manage the current system, and that these issues must be addressed as a matter of urgency.

During An Tóstal it was proposed to examine the possibility of an alternative system to that of the current language schemes. The proposed new system would see certain Public Bodies categorised under the Act to provide services in Irish to the same standard as those provided in English. It was recommended that the Office of the Language Commission would have a central role under the new system in both influencing current practices within Public Bodies, and in administering sanctions where Public Bodies fail to conform to their regulatory duties.

In support of the recommendations made to date by the Language Commissioner, the experts speaking at An Tóstal recognised the current crisis within the public service with such a low number of staff able to proficiently provide services in both official languages of the State. It was agreed that it is necessary to put a recruitment process in place which recognises the advantage of proficiency in both English and Irish, which will ensure a higher number of employees in Public Bodies under the Act will be able to deal with the public through Irish in the future.

The recommendations made during Tóstal na Gaeilge will be included in the submission by Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge to the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. A summary of those recommendations will be published on Gaelport.com, the Irish language news and information website, as a guide to the public as they complete the Department’s survey, or prepare submissions as part of the current consultation process.

Speaking at Tóstal na Gaeilge 2012, President of Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge, Pádraig Mac Fhearghusa said “the sheer number of people who attended Tóstal na Gaeilge this year reflects the interest and understanding which the public has in the review of the Official Languags Act 2003”. Mac Fhearghusa urges the public do “take action by completing the Deparment’s survey online before the deadline at the end of the month”.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Change of Language Commisioner status to cost money!

This is the text of an letter sent to the English Language and Irish media in Ireland:

We, as members of the Irish language community both within and outside of the Gaeltacht, expect that the Government will change its decision to merge the functions of the Language Commissioner with the Ombudsman Office in 2012 and are calling on the Government to make that change now rather than dragging out the process and further damaging the effectiveness of the office.

The Language Commissioner has been widely recognised as a highly efficient and dynamic commissioner who has been praised not only for his work in defending citizens' rights but also for being a proactive advocate of best language practice. A recent example of this would be the highly attractive module on general language rights that his office recently developed for use in Transition year at second level.

We now know that the decision, as admitted by the Minister of State for the Gaeltacht in the Dáil on the 24th November, could actually cost the state money. The decision also did not take in to account the fact that the current Language Commissioner has been reappointed until 2016 as an independent commissioner and therefore opens the state up to the risk of legal action which could cost the state even more money. Indeed, An Bord Snip Nua when they looked at the Office identified no efficiencies to be made and made no recommendation to alter the status of the Office of the Language Commissioner as an independent office.

All political parties and the Irish language and Gaeltacht organisations have backed the 20 Year Strategy for the Irish Language 2012 – 2030. We acknowledge that funding will be a problem in the short term but why undermine the strategy and the goodwill behind it with this decision that has been acknowledged as having no savings to make to the exchequer.

We believe that the Government should look at the economic arguments coupled with the wishes and the belief of the Irish language community both within and outside of the Gaeltacht that the Office of the Language Commissioner should be supported, that it has our trust and that it has been a very effective service since been set up in 2004. Reversing their decision is therefore the logical and correct thing to do and should be done without delay.

Is muidne le meas,

Aodán Mac an Mhílidh, Gaeilge Átha Luain
Aoileann Nic Dhonnacha, Baile Átha an Róine, Co. Laoise
Bláthnaid Ní Ghréacháin, Gaelscoileanna Teo.
Breandán Mac Gearailt, Ball d’Údarás na Gaeltachta
Cabríní de Barra, Comhlucht Forbartha na nDéise
Caitlín Neachtain, Bainisteoir, Comharchumann Dhúiche Sheoigheach
Caoimhín Ó hEaghra, An Foras Pátrúnachta
Carmel Nic Eochaidh, Spleodar
Colm Mac Séalaigh, Baile an Teampaill, Baile Átha Cliath
Conchubhair Mac Lochlainn, Seachtain na Gaeilge
Cumann Cearta Sibhialta Ghaeltacht Chorca Dhuibhne
Cumann na nOifigeach Forbartha Gaeilge (Earnáil Phoiblí), Roibeard Ó hEartáin & Páid Ó Neachtain
Donncha Ó hÉallaithe, Indreabhán, Co. na Gaillimhe
Donnchadh Ó hAodha, Uachtarán Chonradh na Gaeilge
Éamonn Mac Niallais, Guth na Gaeltachta
Eithne O’Doherty, Craobh na gCeithre Chúirteanna
Eoin Ó Riain, Baile na hAbhann, Co. na Gaillimhe
Feargal Ó Cuilinn, Comhluadar.
Gary Redmond, Uachtarán Aontas na Mac Léinn in Éirinn
Gearóid Ó Murchú, An Spailpín Fánach
Julian de Spáinn, Aontas Phobal na Gaeilge
Liam Ó Maolaodha, Oireachtas na Gaeilge
Lorcán Mac Gabhann, Glór na nGael.
Maedhbh Ní Dhónaill, Ógras
Máirtín Ó Maolmhuaidh, Gaelphobal Cheantar an tSratha Báin
Mícheál de Mórdha, Uachtarán an Oireachtais 2010
Niall Comer, Uachtarán, Comhaltas Uladh
Pádraig Mac Fhearghusa, Fóram Gaeilge Chiarraí
Peadar de Blúit, Aontas na Mac Léinn in Éirinn
Robbie Cronin, an chéad ionadaí don Ghaeilge thar cheann an ASTI
Ruth Ní Shiadhail, Gaeilge Locha Riach
Seán Ó Murchadha, Craobh Mhuineacháin