Thursday, July 17, 2014

Enda sends a linguistic message!

Speak Irish among yourselves, but don’t speak it to us!

I don't know Joe McHugh. They say he is a competant professional and I'm sure they are right! But he has been selected to work in a area for which he is extraordinarily illprepared. He cannot interact with the people on who's behalf he is supposed to be working. This is a pity because he is guaranteed no time to ease into his position but has been despatched on a short course to "brush up" on his Irish. The fact that the Taoiseach thinks that one short course will achieve the fluency that fourteen years failed to do speaks volumes for the naivety of Enda Kenny.

Does he?
The anger of the public has been demonstrated by the intensity of twitter and facebook contributions since the appointment was made. The reactions ranged from total incomprehension to deep anger and frustration. In this writers experience it is even more intense that that generated thn the twitter storm generated by the principled resignation of the first Language Commissioner. Remember the reasons he gave for his resignation and the conclusion he came to:

"The choice I had was to stand aside from my appointment as Coimisinéir Teanga on principle to draw attention to these matters or to continue in my role and, consequently, to participate in a pretence." 

Does anyone believe that this decision of our Taoiseach gives the lie to this statement? He is reported as saying that the lack of facility of the new Minister is an advantage in that it draws attention to the language. What on earth does he believe the responsibility for "Gaeltacht Affairs" is about?

Tom O'Donnell, TD
Some people point to the appointment of Tom O'Donnell as Minister for the Gaeltacht in 1973 as somebody with less than fluent Irish. I actually remember him attending functions back then and hearing him speak. Though he could hardly be called an exponent of Ciceronian-rhetoric, in either language, he made his points succinctly and clearly and in Irish.
There is another difference, he was a senior minister who sat at Cabinet with the sole responsibility for the Gaeltacht. The last such.
Whether he was successful as a Gaeltacht minister is another matter  - enthusiastic and active for the development of the Gaeltacht areas he was indeed. The status of Irish in the Civil Service however was demoted by his Minister for Finance, Richie Ryan and suffered a blow from which it has never recovered.
This and other administrations conduct down the years was commented on by Seán Ó Cuirreáin some months before his decision to resign in an address on the launching of Coláiste na hÉireann.
The Taoiseach said, in a comment which could indeed be interpreted as insulting to the the new Minister of State, that he had little choice but to select Mr McHugh with such a small pool of suitable candidates. He actually sacked at least two Ministers of State with fluency and experience in using the language, in this shuffle.

 There is of course one fresh face he overlooked which has almost the same criteria as the man selected. His only disadvantage being that he is a frst time TD (This did not seem to be a problem though in other appointments!) The man I am talking about lives in a area peripheral to the Gaeltacht. He is in a constituency ripe for yet another TD from the Sinn Féin party with an articulate and enthusiastic candidate from deep with in the strongest area of the Gaeltacht straining at the leash. The difference between this Seán Kyne and the one selected is that he has demonstrated an enthusiasm for his constituents, improving the Irish he learnt in the fourteen years in order to better serve constituents living in Gaeltacht areas. He has shared information on his website and the social media networks in that language. Because of this he has earned the respect and indeed praise of many members of the public and indeed his political enemys. Contrast with Mr McHugh whose tweets and statements before his appointment are exclusively in English and he had displayed thus far no interest and indeed little knowledge of the problems experienced by Irish speakers in dealing with the state.

This decision of our Taoiseach leaves many people speechless, angry and uncomprehending. The only place many Irish speakers can vent this is in the electronic media since the Irish speaking print media has effectively been gagged by a Government financed QUANGO. (see also "The Gaeltacht Voice is silenced!") Nevertheless the controversy has managed to penetrate into the usually hostile or at best indifferent English print and vision media.

Many Irish people were incredulous when the "Irish" Daily Mail's main headline, "An insult to our language!" And look at this from the Belfast Telegraph - New Gaeltacht ministers who can't speak Irish 'will become fluent'

Champion of the Irish Language!
Hidden away in the Treibh section of the Irish Times on Tuesday was an article, The wouldn't would they? which indicates some of the wonder this decision has engendred. The writer replys to his own question, "Well, they just did and we now have a Gaeltacht minister who doesn’t have enough Irish to conduct a credible live interview about Gaeltacht affairs with RnaG or Nuacht TG4. The disbelief at the promotion of McHugh is, of course, no reflection on a capable, hard-working and respected public servant, but choosing to assign to him the Gaeltacht brief...." Thursday's (17/7/2014) Irish Times  has a plethera of letters as well. Later on the Saturday morning the Editorial commented: A tongue-tied minister. (19/7/2014). The organ of the Irish in America, Irish Central, said "Irish language minister with poor Irish is a complete farce and insult!" (22/7/2014) and Sunday Independent, It seems we are destined to forever talk about Irish and never get around to actually speaking it (John Downing 27/7/2014).
A tweet which says, "The whole thing reads like an unaired epsode from Fr Ted," directs to this article in the Irish Independent! The story even reached the hallowed pages of the BBC's Europe site, "Irish protest as 'rusty' minister Joe McHugh books course!" and God alone where else!

 All these comments and accounts point to an understanding of this Government's and the whole State Bureaucracy's attitude as “Speak Irish among yourselves, but don’t speak it to us!”

 The "language question" is extremly complex in all juristrictions. One just has to follow the tweets of Indigenous Tweets to see that.  or to read the report of the first International Conference of Language Commissioners and Ombudsman to realize that. Perhaps one of the Canadian Commissioners encapsulted the philosophy behind language rights in a single sentence, "We are talking not only about rights here but about the right thing to do!"

Enda Kenny has not done the right thing.

But at least he's not a woman....

• "The middle classes think it a sign of vulgarity to speak Irish."
Thomas Davis, Young Ireland, 1845

• "We must bring pressure upon our politicians not to snuff it (Irish) out by their tacit discouragement merely because they do not happen themselves to understand it."

• "There can be no greater delusion than to imagine that a language can be kept alive alone by teaching."
 Eoin Mac Neill (1900)

"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"

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