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)

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