Friday, November 6, 2015

New Irish speakers!

‘New speakers’ are those who regularly use a language who are not traditional native speakers of that language.

The Coimisinéir Teanga, Rónán Ó Domhnaill, has launched Research Report on New Irish Speakers, prepared by Dr. John Walsh, University of Ireland, Galway, Professor Bernadette O’Rourke, Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, and Dr. Hugh Rowland, University of Ireland, Galway, for Foras na Gaeilge, on Friday, 30 October at Oireachtas na Samhna in Citywest, Dublin.

In his launching address, Rónán Ó Domhnaill remarked on the present state of affairs for Irish Speakers both inside and outside the Gaeltacht areas. (Our translation from the original Speaker Notes).

The State is not neutral
Rónán Ó Dómhnaill
"It is always a challenge to the "new speaker" (nuachainteoir) to find a place for speaking Irish in his life" he said. These difficulties and some solutions are discussed in the report. He addressed his own statutory obligations as Coimisinéir Teanga. The Act which set up his office was to increase the use of the language in public life. "Often officials in the state bodies state that there is little demand for services through is difficult to assess this demand realistically if the service is made as available, as effective and as easily as that in English." Indeed he went further, "If there appears not to be a demand for services in Irish there is an obligation on the State, arising from its aims and policy, to take a leadership role and to encourage the demand. The State is not neutral in these matters."

In addressing the lack of services to Gaeltacht areas he averred: "We will have no success as a language community without giving, without question, the respect, the goodwill and the legitimacy to every speaker of Irish regardless of his background, his dialect or his competancy."

"It is extraordinary that after almost one hundred years of political independence that Irish is not the automatic means of communication between the State and the Gaeltacht Community and that the opposite is the norm: that one must revert to English to do business with the State....It makes little sense that the State lays the obligation on the Gaeltacht community for preparing language planning in set language planning areas, while at the same time refusing to fulfill their own responsibilitys."

He welcomed the publication of this report and hoped that proper recognition would be given to it as a support for language planning in the widest sense of that term and that it would be a foundation for further research in that area.

The report itself is a joint venture between the University of Ireland, Galway and Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, presenting the results of research on the background, practice and ideologies of ‘new speakers’ of Irish. ‘New speakers’ are those who regularly use a language who are not traditional native speakers of that language. New speakers usually acquire the target language through the education system or through immersion education or, depending on the sociolinguistic context, the acquisition may take place as a result of language revitalisation programmes. The report is based on research conducted in recent years by a network of European researchers titled New Speakers in a Multilingual Europe: Opportunities and Challenges under the auspices of COST (European Co-operation in Science and Technology). There are 50 researchers from 27 European countries in this network and the authors of this report are engaged in research on new speakers of Irish.

An Dr John Walsh
"Above all, this research demonstrates that anyone can become a new speaker, regardless of their language background,’ said Dr. John Walsh, Senior Lecturer of Irish in University of Ireland, Galway. ‘One of the interesting results is that of the role of the Irish teacher in an ordinary English-medium school: many new speakers referred to inspirational teachers they had at school who fostered an interest in Irish, which encouraged them to use it as a social language after school. 

"The new speakers believe that the Gaeltacht is important but some of them have social anxiety trying to speak Irish with Gaeltacht natives. People need more support to become new speakers and we have made some policy recommendations which will help people make that transition if implemented. These include proper investment in a wide range of physical spaces in which Irish could be spoken socially and Irish language awareness campaigns in social media."

Prof. Bernadette O'Rourke
"The findings of our research on Irish have many parallels with other languages in Europe including Basque, Catalan, Breton, Galician, Welsh and Scottish Gaelic, and this report will provide invaluable insights into the broader opportunities and challenges that new speakers bring to a multilingual Europe. 

"The recommendations we have made in relation to new speakers of Irish will feed into a broader set of recommendations at EU level and help identify a common framework of understanding and policy implications at European level", said Prof. Bernadette O’Rourke of Heriot-Watt in Scotland, one of the report’s authors.

Ferdie Mac an Fhailigh
Ferdie Mac an Fhailigh, Chief Executive, Foras na Gaeilge, welcomed the report and said, "Foras na Gaeilge caters to a broad range of Irish speakers nationwide, north and south, as well as within and outside the Gaeltacht. We recognise that new speakers are of great importance and we welcome this positive research revealing their aspirations and needs. We look forward to discussing the recommendations in the report to determine how best we can provide additional support to new speakers in the future."

#OnaS15 @Ceartateanga @ForasnaGaeilge 

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Thatcher out-Thatchered!

Faithful to the aspirations and legacy of Michael Collins?

If you are a reader of the English language newspapers you may be forgiven in not knowing that around 10,000 people were assembled during the past few days at the mammoth City West Hotel in the annual celebration of Gaeldom known as The Oireachtas. People travel from the length and breadth of Ireland and indeed from further afield, meeting old friends, enjoying that music, singing, dancing and poems, drama, literature and art that is irrefutably Irish.

Protecting the Taoiseach from the "Gaeilgeoirís"?
The Taoiseach, Mr Enda Kenny TD,  attended, accompanied by a large phalanx of Garda - not all of whom could speak the language of the attendees - to launch that section of the 1916-2016 commemoration which is in the oldest extant written vernacular in Europe, our National Language. This may be found on a website with the strangely incongruous web address of

He agreed to be interviewed on the popular daily Raidío na Gaeltachta programme, Cormac ag a cúig. This is an interesting programme broadcast from Dublin hosted by Cormac Ó hEadhra - if you listen to Drivetime on RTE Radio he sometimes stands in for the usual presenter there.

Now Cormac is nothing if not a thorough and persistent presenter and interviewer. The Taoiseach is not known for giving interviews like this on news programmes and so the listeners were looking forward to hearing his views on the problems and difficulties that are the daily problems of those who wish to live through Irish in their own country.

Costed plan - unseen?
The short interview first discussed on the pre-budget documentation, proposed by over 70 Irish-language and Gaeltacht groups, including community and all-island organisations and their funding authorities. "Investment in the Irish language and in the Gaeltacht from 2016 onwards" (pdf-bilingual) published in early October sought to make the case for additional funding into those sectors. The launch was attended by senior political figures. It was a costed investment plan to create 1,160+ jobs and to provide Irish-Language opportunities for the public.

No No. 1
Cormac sumarised this fourteen page document which provided detailed costings which came to a figure just short of €18million. This amount is in fact €5 million less funding than was provided in 2008. Would the Taoiseach be acting on this and work towards providing this amount? Surprisingly the Taoiseach did not seem to realise that there was a detailed costing in this report as he said that he could not promise anything until he knew the financial implications. Cormac said in translation, "We'll take that as a no!" and the Taoiseach did not demur.

In passing we would point to the money already spent on Water meters (€??m) which are not being used or on the Eircode system (€58m) which is also unusable - did his Government know the financial implications before embarking on these adventures?

No No. 2
The second item discussed was the appointment of a senior minister, at the cabinet table, with responsibility for Irish & the Gaeltacht rather than the current situation where a Minister of State has that as part of his responsibilties (The current occupant of this position also holds responsibilities in the Department of Communications). This is one of the points also in the famous 20 Strategy for the Irish Language which achieved all party approval in late 2010 and has been more or less ignored as the Comisinéir Teanga, Seán Ó Cuirreán wryly remarked as he made his last statement in Leinster House, " the Strategy being implemented? I don’t know. And with all due respect to you as a subcommittee, I believe that you don’t know either as there is no independent audit or review being conducted on the implementation of the Strategy...what gets measured gets done!" (23 Jan 2014) But I digress! The Taoiseach again refused to commit to this request. "We'll take that as a no!" said Cormac again without any qualification from his guest.

No No. 3
The third commitment was that a separate Oireachtas Committee for Irish and Gaeltacht affairs be instituted instead of the current situation where there are sub-committees and committees share various aspects such as the Public Service Oversight and Petitions, Subcommittee on the 20 Year Strategy or the Joint Committee on Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht and others. Again the Taoiseach refused to commit to anything and inferred that the present set-up was adequate. Another no.

The Ironman?
It was pointed out that the two major opostion parties had already committed to these three points. The Taoiseach said that though he was favourable towards the Language he would not be involved in a competition of promises. And the interview was over.

A tweet received by the programme later in the programme accused the Taoiseach of being more Thatcher than Thatcher herself - No! No! No!

The Minister of State, Joe McHugh was interviewed afterwards and had little to offer other than more discussions - before the end of the year!

Is it worth it to point out that it was a Fine Gael/Labour government that removed the necessity of having Irish to be in the Civil Service (1964) which is the cause of so many problems to day. The current Fine Gael/Labour government has ram-rodded a Gaeltacht Act through the Oireachtas - the first time since the institution of the state that an Act on the language or the Gaeltacht has been passed with out the agreement of all parties.  This act removed the democratic component of the Gaeltacht Authority. They have also watered down some of the legislation on the co-publishing of Acts in both official languages (Minister Shatter). In fact it looks like when the State system errs because of not following the law the Government - in the best "Yes Minister" tradition - changes the law, (e.g. application of points for civil service appointments or the recent issuing of driving summons monolingually).

This is the party that says it looks up to the Big Fellow, Michael Collins. Is it not ironic, indeed tragically so, that their current leader out of his own mouth eschews the written words of the man his party idealises?

"They destroyed our language, all but destroyed it, and in giving us their own they cursed us so that we have become its slaves. Its words seem with us almost an end in themselves, and not as they should be, the medium for expressing our thoughts.

"We have now won the first victory. We have secured the departure of the enemy who imposed upon us that by which we were debased, and by means of which he kept us in subjection. We only succeeded after we had begun to get back our Irish ways, after we had made a serious effort to speak our own language, after we had striven again to govern ourselves. We can only keep out the enemy, and all other enemies, by completing that task....

"...the biggest task will be the restoration of the language. How can we express our most subtle thoughts and finest feelings in a foreign tongue? Irish will scarcely be our language in this generation, not even perhaps in the next. But until we have it again on our tongues and in our minds we are not free, and we will produce no immortal literature...." (The Path to Freedom 1922)

The policies of this Government, and the State Apparatus led to the extraordinary resignation of the person appointed by the President with unique responsibilities including"to monitor compliance by public bodies with the provisions of the Official Languages Act and to take all necessary measures to ensure compliance by public bodies with their duties under the Act." In his own words after ten years in office he was left with two choices. "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.  I am absolutely certain that I made the correct decision. " (23 Jan 2014)

Is it not a tragedy that the Government, and the Civil Service they are elected to use have done nothing and have promised nothing to engage in any serious way in this "the biggest task" outlined by Michael Collins.
Fine Gael has a strong affinity with Michael Collins and his legacy?

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Please Sir, may I renew my driving license?

It is virtually impossible to renew a driving licence using the national language!

I have a simple rule of thumb when dealing with the State and Semi-State bodies. I claim my constitutional right to correspond and interact with them in the National Language. I have done this since the 1960s when I reached my majority.
Thus when the renewal of my road tax, driving licence, dog licence, passport, payment of income tax, moterway tolls and any dealings I have with the State or Local Authority I expect the same treatment as a person using that second official language. That expectation is not always satisfied. Indeed it is often frought with difficulty. I have outlined that latest saga as a diary here (Irish).

Six weeks hassle!
The "Irish" page on RSA
Recently I became aware that there was a new system of renewing driving licences so naturally I tried to find out more about this. I googled "Ceadúnas Tiomána" (Driving Licence) and got the page of the Road Safety Authority. This has as one ought to expect on any Government agency, a button giving a choice of language. I clicked on "Gaeilge" (Irish) but to my dismay it lead me to a page which, although most headings were in Irish the actual content was in English only. After few minutes rooting around I could not find anything that could help me unless I was prepared to convert to using English.

I wrote to the Coimisinéir Teanga, who advised that his office had no jurisdiction over the RSA as it had been set up after the bill setting his office up was enacted (one of many weaknesses in the 2003 Act). Since the website had no address that I could find I then wrote to the Department of Transport. After a few days they wrote back saying that they would contact the RSA and I could expect a response from then within 10 days.

Compulsary English!
I waited but no response so I wrote again, three or four times in the course of six weeks with no response. I then wrote to the Coimisinéir Teanga again advising them of the situation and copying them with the correspondance. They also pointed out that the forms for renewal were on the site on a column on the left hand side and so they were. But they were referred to in English only as "Irish - D401 Full Licence application form". The Medical Report Form in Irish is incorrect too when downloaded. Had they used Irish to identify these forms I might have noticed! They asked if they could copy a contact they had within the RSA and I gave that permission.

This had the desired effect and I was contacted by them. They advised that somebody would contact me and I gave my telephone number.

The Irish client!
I was contacted by telephone then by somebody with an English accent who only spoke English asking if I was the person requiring to renew my licence in Irish. (Remember I have successfully renewed my licence for the last forty years in Irish with no difficulty!). I was flabbergasted and wrote back to the RSA saying it was a perfect example of the marginalisation of Irish by the state talked about by many people from the President down.  As a person who has lived in the Irish Speaking area for the last twelve years I fully understand the statement of the last Coimisinéir Teanga '..the State sector is effectively saying to Gaeltacht communities: “Speak Irish among yourselves, but don’t speak it to us!”*. I then received a telephone call from the person who wrote me earlier who apologised for this and said it shouldn't happen again.

I was then contacted by somebody else and we set up a meeting to do the necessary for renewal. He asked for my mobile number which I gave. And that was that. Hopefully there will be no problems when I get to the registration office.

(In the meantime I received notification from the Dept of Transport, Tourism & Sport advising that my driving licence was due to expire. This was a bilingual communication (in accordance with correct procedure). It advised that I had to make an appointment and that the only way to make an appointment was on-line at However as outlined above this service is only available monolingually!)

But there's more!
I received a text on my phone - from a British phone number and here it is:
Can you get the message? It would appear that the words of a retired civil servant are very true in the attitude of state bodies, "passive inaction on their part now seems to have moved up a notch or two to one of active undermining."*

Maybe the Government should hold a referendum to remove Article 8 of the constitution. Somebody has already put the choices before us succintly: "We have two simple choices – to look back at Irish as our lost language or to move forward with it as a core part of our heritage and sovereignty."*  What do you choose?

But in English!
Had I decided to waive my constitutional rights this operation would have taken a few minutes plus the time travelling to the registration office.

*Address to Oireachtas Committee 23 January 2014

Friday, October 23, 2015

What happened in 2014? Coimisinéir Teanga before Oireachtas Public Service Oversight Committee. @ceartateanga

Translation of speaking notes of the Coimisinéir Teanga, Rónán Ó Domhnaill at the Houses of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions, 21 October 2015.

This is a translation. The original notes may be found on Gaeltacht21: Buaicphointí Oifige an Choimisinéara Teanga le linn 2014! This is the second time this year he has appeared before this committee and notes on his talk may be found also on that site: An Coimisinéir & Comhchoiste eile! (15 Jan 2015 in Irish). The report for 2014 (and for all the reports since the foundation of this office) may be found here on the Coimisinéir's website. The repost has an integrated English translation.

I’d like to thank the Joint Committee for the invitation to discuss the Annual Report of the Office for the year 2014 along with the Special Report which was placed before the Houses of the Oireachtas earlier this year and relates to the Department of Education and Skills.
Appointment of Coimisinéir Teanga
by Uachtarán na hÉireann March 2014

The Annual Report was placed before the Minister for Gaeltacht Affairs in March of this year and the report was officially launched on May 14. The Oireachtas has placed three main obligations upon me as Language Commissioner; to operate as an ombudsman’s service; to operate as a compliance agency in regard to state services through Irish; and to provide advice in regard to language rights and obligations. As has been said often before my Office is a small office, one of the smallest in the state, with six civil servants who are tasked with a heavy and varied work-load work each year.

Year’s Work
My Office dealt with 709 complaints and requests for advice from the public in relation to language rights last year. This was a small increase on the year before. One third of the complaints my Office received related to services covered in language schemes, a quarter involved the use of official languages on signage and stationary and a tenth each related to difficulties people had using the Irish version of the name and address and receiving an answer in English to correspondence in Irish. Along with complaints about road signs, which fell last year, there is a definite trend that these are the areas that Irish speakers have most difficulty with when interacting with the State.

Most of the complaints are dealt with through an informal complaints resolution process which the office operates. That said, in certain cases we are left with no choice but to proceed to a formal investigation when the informal process doesn’t yield a satisfactory outcome. During last year I initiated 7 official investigations on various matters. I also issued three investigative reports relating to the Railway Procurement Agency, Dublin Bus and the Health Services Executive.

"...the Official Languages Act only applies to those public bodies named in the First Schedule of the Act. The Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht has the authority to update the schedule and it is nine years since that last happened, in July 2006. Since then there has been a multitude of changes to organisations, functions and State services since the reform of the public service was initiated. This is a continuous problem that can be easily resolved and should have been done a long time ago."
One matter that I should draw the Joint Committee’s attention to is the amount of complaints that the Office couldn’t investigate as the public bodies concerned didn’t come under the Act. In total there were 115 complaints of that order last year. 35% of those related to the Road Safety Authority and 15% to Irish Water. In these cases my Office depends on the good-will of the public bodies concerned to resolve the complaint or we may have to advise the public that we have no space in which to operate. This happens because the Official Languages Act only applies to those public bodies named in the First Schedule of the Act. The Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht has the authority to update the schedule and it is nine years since that last happened, in July 2006. Since then there has been a multitude of changes to organisations, functions and State services since the reform of the public service was initiated. This is a continuous problem that can be easily resolved and should have been done a long time ago.

The Annual Report outlines the monitoring program my Office implemented over the past year. It can be seen that we continued to examine the implementation of language schemes and recommendations made in investigation reports. Usually my Office also monitors a particular aspect of the direct provisions that are placed upon public bodies. Last year my Office examined the way in which local authorities undertook the fulfilment of their obligations in relation to recorded oral announcements on telephone systems, an obligation that is in place since July 2013 and hadn’t been examined to date. The main finding of the audit was that only 2 local authorities, out of the 32 who came under the scope of the audit, were in full compliance with their language obligations in this regard.

Language Schemes
"A quarter of the life-span of the (20 year) Strategy has passed now and there is no excuse for not identifying posts in a systematic and comprehensive way, as was promised."
There has been a lot of debate about the system of language schemes over the past years. There is little left to say that hasn’t been said already I feel. I’m highly doubtful as regards this system as a comprehensive means for the delivery of state services for the Irish speaking public. There are elements of some schemes that are worthwhile but I believe that the system is a flawed one and that the Welsh example should be followed by evolving to a standards system.

I acknowledge that more language schemes are being agreed than were agreed for some years. The Minister confirmed 21 schemes last year. But I question the worth of limited and conditional commitments in some schemes. There should be no place for this type of curtailment in statutory language schemes.

It also worries me that posts where Irish is required are still not being recognised in the language schemes that are being agreed. It was first stated in the Twenty Year Strategy for the Irish Language that these posts would be identified in language schemes. A quarter of the life-span of the Strategy has passed now and there is no excuse for not identifying posts in a systematic and comprehensive way, as was promised.

Court Case
"I also welcome the learned judge’s response to the Revenue Commissioners’ contention that public bodies could identify ways to work around the legislation when he said 'I am not of the view that responsible public bodies would behave in such a manner'."
Judge Colm Mac Eochaidh gave his judgement last year regarding an appeal by the Office of the Revenue Commissioners against a finding in an investigation by this Office. This was the first and only appeal against the findings made by An Coimisinéir Teanga in the over 100 investigations that my Office has initiated throughout the years. The Court decision against the appeal confirmed that my Office had the correct interpretation on that particular piece of the legislation. Such a legal precedent is of great assistance in clarifying legislation and I welcome it. I also welcome the learned judge’s response to the Revenue Commissioners’ contention that public bodies could identify ways to work around the legislation when he said “I am not of the view that responsible public bodies would behave in such a manner”.

Official Languages Act (revised)
The General Scheme of the Official Languages Bill (amendment) was published in April of last year. I made a presentation on this matter to the Joint Committee on Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht in May 2014. I said then that there was little in the proposed Bill to satisfy the requirements of the Irish speaking public. I also said that there seemed to be little attention paid in the published heads of bill to the proposals my Office made or indeed to the views submitted by the public. A requirement that state employees providing services in the Gaeltacht be fluent in Irish wasn’t included for example, or indeed that an alternative system to language schemes be put in place. I agree with the view expressed by the cross-party Joint Committee, which made 34 recommendations relating to 13 heads of bill, that the new Bill had to ensure that Irish be promoted rather than its impact be limited in certain areas.

"The Office has received a substantial amount of complaints regarding Eircode and what upset people most was that their new post code was sent to them under a name and address which was in English when it isn’t common for them to ever use that. I am investigating the matter at present but I should say that I am restricted in what I can do in the absence of provision in the language legislation of the country to protect this right."
As I’ve said before, apart from technical changes there are only two sections in the published heads of bill where I see a worthwhile objective, these are that public bodies be brought in under the Act automatically and that legislative protection be given to the use of the Irish version of one’s name and address. It was made clear to us recently how important it is that there be legislative protection regarding the use of one’s name and address after people received their new post codes at their addresses which were in English and in a name they didn’t recognise. The Office has received a substantial amount of complaints regarding Eircode and what upset people most was that their new post code was sent to them under a name and address which was in English when it isn’t common for them to ever use that. I am investigating the matter at present but I should say that I am restricted in what I can do in the absence of provision in the language legislation of the country to protect this right.

Over four years have passed since the review of the Official Languages Act was announced in November 2011. I have no doubt about what’s required. The strengths and weaknesses with the present Act have been stated and restated. As Coimisinéir Teanga I want an Act which can be a strong support for the provision of State services through Irish that can help those that have the not unreasonable desire to conduct their business with the official institutions of the country through Irish. Measures, supports and resources are of course needed, not least being enough staff with Irish to ensure that. But we would be pulling the wool over our eyes were we to think that these measures alone are enough without a strengthened Act to back them up.

Special Report
Whilst launching my Annual Report in May this year I also submitted a special report to the Houses of the Oireachtas under section 26(5) of the Act. I have the authority to do this when I come to the conclusion that a public body hasn’t satisfactorily implemented recommendations made in an Investigation Report.

"...arrangements must be put in place that ensure beyond any question or doubt that teachers in Gaeltacht schools and indeed in all-Irish schools have fluent Irish."
This particular report relates to the Department of Education and Skills and its failure, in my opinion, to put satisfactory arrangements in place to ensure that only teachers with fluent Irish be appointed to Gaeltacht schools. Having conducted an investigation following a complaint from Scoil na Rinne on the matter it was clear that preference was being given to panel rights that contradicted or ignored language obligations on the Department under the Education Act 1998.

I would like to put on the record that I welcome the process which the Department of Education and Skills launched for Policy Proposals for Education Provision in Gaeltacht Areas earlier this year. There is reference in that document to the matter that resulted in the original complaint, that is the redeployment of teachers and it states that the effectiveness of the arrangements in place will be reviewed continuously. I believe that more than that is required and that arrangements must be put in place that ensure beyond any question or doubt that teachers in Gaeltacht schools and indeed in all-Irish schools have fluent Irish. Having considered the implementation of the recommendations I came to the opinion that the Department hadn’t done enough to ensure that that would be the case. On that basis I forwarded the report to the Houses of the Oireachtas.

I hope this statement gives an overview to the Joint Committee on the highlights of the Office over the past year and I welcome any questions.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Still here but in danger!

I disagree with the tenor of Colm Ó Giollagáin's article in todays Independent, "There is no denying the clear threats to future of Irish". I think he is reading far too much into what Rónán Mac Con Iomaire wrote in his earlier piece, "Irish and the Gaeltacht - they haven't gone away, you know". Certainly I did not read it as a condemnation, still less as a refutation of the Údarás Report, rather was it a refutation of the gleeful interpretation of this report in some parts of the English language media here in Ireland. I hardly think he deserves this vituperative response!

Of course there is no denying that the real problem outside observers face is the fact that the "Authorities" have treated these reports with nothing little short of contempt. Studies which he and his collaborator undertook in good faith are not only ingnored but are delayed in publication or even worse are only published in part. Is it possible to come to any other conclusion but that this is because the forces referred to by the President as those "for whom the language is not half dead enough," are pulling the strings?

Yesterday we saw an Oireachtas Committee discussing this latest study without having at least one of the authors present. Mr Ó Giollagáin is reported on as saying that he was not invited, and that he did not even know of the meeting until that morning. Yet at the meeting it was claimed that he had been invited, by telephone, but was unavailable on the day. Is that the way to treat an eminent academic? It begs the question as to how these meeting are organised and exactly how relevant is a examination by the Oireachtas of a scientific study if they don't actually engage with the authors in a professional way? (Meeting as reported on in Irish Times 21/10/2015)

Scientific studies are just that, scientific studies. Perhaps we sometimes read these more as opinions, like an article by Kevin Myres say, rather than conclusions reached after the measurement of certain parameters and identification of facts. This takes study, examination ourselves of the parameters and verification ourselves of the modus operandi used in the study. Too often we look at the catchy headline "The end is nigh!" and attack accordingly. In addition reports like this are held back or only released in part by the "Authorities" who requested them.

Indeed the treatment of Dr. Ó Giollagáin's expertese in the area of language planning has been largely ignored by those charged with that responsibility. A cursary reading of the reports of the Coimisinéir Teanga over that last ten years will show just how little planning comes into anything Government decides in matters of language. Indeed their lack of adherence to the implimentation of the 20 Year Strategy, the all Party agreed plan,  demonstrates eloquently the policy "Speak Irish among yourselves but speak English to us!"

I do think that Colm Ó Giollagáin is correct in its last paragraph. "Those in positions of influence will not be treated kindly by history if the trajectory towards the dominance of English in the Gaeltacht - and the extirpation of Irish as a social and cultural entity - is allowed to continue unabated, despite official protestations." 

Compare with the last words of Seán Ó Cuirreáin to the Houses of the Oireachtas before he left office (in translation): "But I would say to you with certainty here today in the Houses of the Oireachtas, that it is with heavy hearts that the people of the Gaeltacht and the Irish speaking community in general will approach the centenary of the 1916 Rising in two years time if our national language is to be merely a symbolic language, and rather than being an integral part of our culture and heritage, that it is pushed aside, marginalised and left in the in the halfpenny place in the life of this nation." (Address to Oireachtas Sub Committee 23/1/2014)

Since this item was published Dr Ó Giollagáin has written to the Director General of RTÉ as reported in this article in  (20/10/2015)

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Process before people! Burocratic bumblings west of the Corrib!

Stop Press: U-Turn
The Dept's Announcement
26th September 2015: Raidío na Gealtachta news reader Maríon Ní Shúilleabháin was first out of the stocks at 21.00 last evening  with a tweeted copy of a embargoed release from the Department which announced the cancellation of the contract for a helicopter service from Carnmore to the Aran Islands. This is in fact a u-turn by the government. 
Here is how it is reported by the Irish Times: Tender procedure for Aran Island air service cancelled! The Irish Independent has: Minister cancels decision to award Aran Islands air service to helicopter firm! And the Aran Islands helicopter contract cancelled after backlash from locals! 
And this is how (the Irish news service)  reported it: Deireadh curtha leis an bpróiseas tairisceana maidir le seirbhís aeir d’Oileáin Árann! 

Sadly there has been no good news for the people of Cleggan as AnPost have been adamant in their decision to close the post office service there at a meeting with the people yesterday!

There is an apocraphal story about the discontinuation of the last telephone kiosk in Cill Rónáin, the capital of the Aran Islands. The telephone company removed the telephone and on the door of the kiosk afixxed the following notice:

"Service from this kiosk has been discontinued. However if a telephone is required the nearest in service kiosk is in Roundstone!"

Now the frequency of any, if any, connections to Roundstone - which is on the mainland - is to say the least infrequent. The message that it underlines however is the futility of distance management. The nearest kiosk may very well have been in Roundstone but the possibility of getting there to use it in any reasonable time was non-existent. Local knowledge could have instructed this decision.

There have been  a number of cases in Conamara and Árainn recently which also highlight this lack of local knowledge or indeed respect for local consultation.

The school bus
There are close to 30 young people in our district who attend the  "local" secondary school. This school is not in the parish but about a dozen miles away. Suddenly and without prior notice parents were advised that the bus service which has served the school from this district was been discontinued. Needless to say this created a major problem, not least for the school. The fact that so many pupils would no longer be able easily to attend classes could have implications on how many teachers they could be justified to the Department of Education. Happily after a very strong and robust protest by both parents and school authorities the decision was rescinded. For the moment?

Department superceded!
The Island of Inis Meáin is the smallest of the three islands which guard Galway Bay. It has a small population and a small school. The Department of Education has applied their rules strictly with regard to teacher ratios without reference to the needs of particular areas. This has meant that the primary school on the island has only one teacher teaching all classes from infants up to sixth class. If as has happened that teacher is ill there is no teacher for the school and there is difficulty in getting a temporary teacher not least because of the location of the school. The Government has refused to relent from this hard-line approach and the island suffers as a result. To the eternal shame of the Government a solution was presented, albeit a temporary one. An international company, Zurich Insurance, has agreed to finance a second teacher for this school. Inability to understand local conditions and deliberate deafness to local advice again is the hallmark of the states response. "The case for the reinstatement of an additional teacher at the primary school on Inis Meáin is a strong one," they said in a statement. Obviously not strong enough for the Department to bend its rules.

The local post office.
"An Post regrets to advise customers that this Postal Agency will close on Friday 28th August 2015."  This was the news that greeted residents of NW Connemara village Cleggan a short ten days before it happened. This village is the mainland connection for Inisbofin. It is not a Gaeltacht area.  Their Post Office, which has served the people of Cleggan for at least four decades, was finally to close.  It had been downgraded some years previously to the status of a Sub-Post Office, with no facility to offer full postal services.  However, it had continued to provide Social Benefit payments to pensioners, those on disability payments, and the unemployed.  Cleggan is a relatively isolated village, so the loss of these services locally represents a major blow to the village. The residents of Cleggan and its environs find it impossible to understand the decision by An Post, a decision "taken by some faceless person in An Post".  Local knowledge? Consultation?

Sorry we can't take anyfurther bookings!
But perhaps the most extraordinary example of this kind of senselessness was in the announcement of the termination of the 45 year fixed wing plane service from the Conamara Regional Airport to the Aran Islands and replacing it with a helicopter from the disused Galway Airport some 50+ kilometers away..

Joe McHugh TD - "Pleased!"
"Minister of State for Gaeltacht Affairs, Joe McHugh T.D., has announced today (26 August 2015) that the preferred tenderer for the air service contract to the Aran Islands is Executive Helicopters Limited. It is intended that the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, as the contracting authority, will conclude a contract with the preferred bidder after September 9 following the standstill period. The Office of Government Procurement was responsible for organising the public procurement process regarding tenders for the air service. Under the new contract, daily return flights by helicopter will be provided between the islands and Galway Airport for the period from 1 October 2015 to 30 September 2019." The Minister obviously had not the slightest clue as to the effect of this announcement as he is quoted as saying. "I'm pleased to be able to make this announcement today. The agreement between my Department and Executive Helicopters Limited ensures that the air service to the Aran Islands will continue over the next four years."

For almost a half century the business community on the islands as well as other sectors (health, education, and tourism and the adminstration of the justice system) have availed of the service of what is now Aer Arann Islands, a service which has provided an enviably efficient service over the years. More recently the predecessor of the current Minister of State had indicated that there might be a discontinuation of the service for economic reason. The islanders made strong representations for the maintenance of the service showing just how the live of the islanders was improved by its existence. Indeed many islanders can have excellent jobs on the mainland and live their lives in their homes on the islands.

The local secondary schools have agreements with schools a short distance from the Conamara airport which greatly enhance the experience of schools on both sites of the water. Island businesses regard the air service as a liveline and use it constantly. Even if the weather is bad and does not allow for the plane service, the airport is close enough to Ros a'Mhíl to allow easy transportation between venues. Some business on the Island will close down if the service welcomed by the Minister is adopted. The airport will close down and there will be a loss of about 40 jobs directly engaged in the Aer Arann Islands service.

Choice or imposition?
In addition there is a fear among many people of traveling in helicopters. They are certainly more susceptible to adverse weather conditions than planes. There is doubt among air professionals as to their flexibility in "island hopping". Indeed there are no examples in all of Europe of a continual air service to islands using other than fixed wing aircraft. Also replacing a 7 minute fixed wing journey from a convenient airport with a 15 to 20 minute journey from the other side of Galway city needs to be justified. The fact that the availability of this airport is in question is also adding to the confusion.

The Office of Government Procurement was responsible for this debacle - some faceless person in Dublin? Even the local TD from the main Government party acknowledges that this particular process is a mess. Indeed aviation experts including a former member of the Air Corps, who, after discussing many of the points made above and more got straight to the nitty gritty: "...a single question remains – was there anyone with aviation experience involved in the procurement process in this particular instance? " To date this question has not been answered.

A meeting of the Islands' delegation with the Minister last Thursday produced no solace for the Islanders. A spokesman for the island delegation said after the meeting that he was even more disappointed than the previous meeting. All the minister would say was that the process had to run its course.

A subsequent statement from the Minister's office explained his position:
"In accordance with legal advice received, it has now been decided to extend the voluntary standstill period to 16 November 2015 with a view to obtaining clarification on the availability of Galway Airport for the duration of the 4 year contract from 1 October 2015 as set out in the Request for Tenders. The Department will be writing to the owners of Galway Airport in that regard.

In order to ensure that an air service continues to be provided to/from the Aran Islands, the Department will be engaging with the existing service provider (Galway Aviation Services Ltd trading as Aer Arann) with a view to agreeing the terms of an extension to the existing contract from 1 October 2015 to 1 February 2016."

Thus it appears that the Minister has extended by three months the contract of Aer Arann Islands. It subsequently appeared that they (Aer Arann Islands) learned about it only from radio reports! Indeed it appears that they still are unofficially aware of the position and are refusing to accept bookings after 30th September (Report in Sunday Independent 13 Sep 2015).

See also this article in Flying in Ireland 11 Sep 2015 -  Climb down on Aran Islands Air Service – For Now.

Meanwhile protective notice for those whose jobs are directly or indirectly have been issued.
Is it little wonder that the picture shown in this account of the most recent discussion with the Minister (the second in about a week) looks like nothing so much as a post funeral gathering. (Pic
A recent piece from a resident of the smallest of these three islands gives their perspective and indeed expectation. "I learned about the evacuation of the Blasket Islands in 1953 and how the government of the day stood by and allowed these islanders, a people rich in our own culture and language was allowed to be confined to the annals of history. 

If we continue to go in the direction that we are going, if we accept this and not stand up for what is right I believe that my own children will one day be interviewed by scholars eager to learn about how life on the Aran Islands was when they used to be populated."

Another islander has written this article which appeared in The Examiner: Aer Arann is more than an airline to the Aran Islands. It’s a lifeline. (15/9/2015). "Aer Arann’s current PSO from the State is €1.2m. The revised PSO, won by Executive Helicopters, was for €800,000.

This isn’t much more than annual social welfare payments that will need to be paid to those in the direct employment of Aer Arann as of next month, most of whom have skills that are not transferable.

Factor in the additional dole drawn when jobs are lost due to a downturn in tourism and craft trades, and that saving from cutting the PSO becomes dwarfed by hand-outs. Inis Maan Knitting Factory feel they will probably have to relocate. They employ 10% of the entire island’s population

Jobs that would only take an hour or so to do — such as fixing the Sky box or wi-fi — will now cost islanders a full day’s rate, as the helicopter and ferry service will be reduced to two crossings a piece. Islanders will also have to wait for service providers to have a full day that they can commit to doing the simplest of jobs."

There are those who say that this contract is part of an interim scheme to discontinue the air service completely by making it unworkable. In a few years time a justifiable decision would be made that since the service is not been used that much it should be shut down completely. But not even the state bureaucracy could be that devious. Could it?


It was a Fine Gael led Government which abolished the requirement for Irish in the state service. It was a Fine Gael led government which de-democratised the Gaeltacht Authority. It was a Fine Gael led government which watered down the law which stated that all bills and acts should be issued in both languages simultaeneously. It was a Fine Gael government that proposed the subsumation of the Office of Coimisinéir Teanga into the Office of Ombudsman. It was a Fine Gael led Government which allowed a gardiner in its employ be threatened if he did not desist in his advocacy for a strong supportive Government policy on the language. It is a Fine Gael led Government which is presiding over the steadily declining support of rural communities be they English or Irish speaking. Will it be a Fine Gael led government which puts the final nail into another of the unique treasures of our country - our island communities?

Saturday, July 18, 2015

A cavalier code! A €27m burden! #Eircode

“Speak Irish among yourselves, but don’t speak it to us!”.  (State policy to the Gaeltacht Regions as described by Seán Ó Cuirreáin 23 January 2014)

The so-called roll out of the "postal-code" called EirCode has been mired with controversy since it's launch last week.

Perhaps it most spectacular failure is in the insulting way in which it is treating the National Language and indeed the names of those who use the correct form of their surnames and in its cavalier attitude to the names of places in the Gaeltacht and outside it. It's own name EirCode which they obviously think refers cleverly to "Éire" (Ireland) in fact would appear to be more correctly based on "eire" (burden/load). In fact there are those who maintain that it is a €27million burden on the hard pressed Irish taxpayer.

The blame game!
The Department responsible for employing those who invented this system, the selection process of which broke EU laws for such tendering, referred complaints to the EirCode organisation who referred it back to An Post. An Post came up with the breathtaking answer that it was due to a "technical problem."

The Irish on-line news resource and some other well known personalities have made public some of these. Indeed the writer himself has received notification addressed to "Owen Ó'Riain" which is a strange mixture of a Christian name I have never ever used and an even stranger Irish/English of spelling my surname with a "fada" AND an apostrophy. If they had wished to translate my fisrt name correctly then they ought to have used "John" as I was called after my grandfather whose name that was.

The writer of iGaeilge received his notificatio addressed to an anglacised variant of his surname without the inclusion of his first name at all. Perhaps "Concubhar" was beyond even the most inveterate anglophile.

In another delicious irony the envelope announcing the post code bears a return address without any postcode!
I wonder what technical problem would be able to change a persons name from "Eoin" to "Owen" in my case. And how could a technical issue work out that "Ó Ciardha" was "Carey" and not "Keery". Or that the lovely name of "Amhlaoibh" itself a Gaelicisation of the Scandanavian "Olav" but usually anglicised to "Humphrey", is changed to Auliffe.

Early warnings!
Conradh na Gaeilge had warned all through this process of possible problems especially with place names and indeed there are up to 50,000 address errors on the system which appears never to have gone to the Placenames resource on line, to make sure that names were correct. The the names of places hereabouts (the Conamara Gaeltacht) have become an English/Irish pastiche being neither one thing or the other.

The fact that An Post, who have been blamed by EirCode for this debacle, are unable to use the code themselves speaks volumes.

The fact that our Government have been happy to waste €27million of our money on this is an entirely other matter.

Because of the deficiencies in the legislation setting his office up, the Coiminéir Teanga, has no function in this matter. Nevertheless, as in other cases, he will I am sure register any complaints he receives and relay the dissatisfaction of complainants to the Legislature.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Government continuing its policy of "fudge, farce, falshood?"

The derogation on Irish usage in the European Union was mentioned recently in the Dáil. This was instituted when Irish was recognised as an official language of the Union some 10 years ago in order to allow facilities, translators etc to be instituted. This expires at the end of 2016.

Liadh Ní Riada'a frustration. 
The effect of this derogation (the length of which is unprecidented in the European Union experience) was dramatically demonstrated when one of our members of the Europeam Parliment, Liadh Ní Riada was instructed to "Speak in another language...." at one of its meetings. Think of it, a member who from a Gaeltacht Area, whose mother tongue from the cradle it is, is forbidden from speaking in Irish, a recognised EU language, at an official parliamentary meeting.

Earlier this year a crowded meeting in Dublin's historic Wynn's Hotel was addressed by Dr Professor P. B. Ó Laighin and MEP Liadh Ní Riada among others. 

"I know that a decision in principle has been made
by the Government that the derogation will not be
ended by 31st December 2016 and that the  derogation
will be renewed from  the 1st January 2017.
Dr Ó Laighin is an acknowledged expert on language matters in the European Union. At that meeting he stated that there was little need for this derogation to be continued from the end of 2016. In trying to ascertain the attitude of the current Government he approached various branches of  administration both in Europe and in Ireland. The EU sources all said that it was a matter solely for the Irish Government. When he approached the Government Departments he was frustrated and delayed again and again and was unable to get a clear response one way or another. (Indeed this writer was quite shocked at the discourtesy shown to such an esteemed expert in the field.) However from his experience and the talks that he did have with them he felt that he was able to make a statement on the matter. He put it up on the screen during his presentation. He stated baldly that "To my knowledge a decision in principle has been made by the Government .... that the derogation will be renewed from the 1st January 2017."

He also stated that there were virtually no reasons any more for the continuation of this derogation. There are translators available, the vocabulary for technical and legal terms is more complete that that of some fully recognised languages and indeed the European institutions are more than prepared to accommodate Irish on equal terms to the other smaller languages like Maltese, Estonian, Latvian etc. Indeed Irish was reported in the Irish Times (13 Nov 2013) as the 14th biggest language in the EU terminology database.  That Ireland and the Irish are ready for the ending of this derogation is without doubt. Indeed it is of great advantage to those whose mother or cradle language is Irish as things stand. 
Crucially many  jobs require applicants to have at least a “thorough knowledge” of an official EU language and “satisfactory knowledge” of either English, French or German. Many third level courses are available such as Kings Inns. The law school offers a number of Irish language courses that are designed to help graduates secure lucrative translation jobs in Europe including some non-degree courses. (cf Article in The 42 13/6/2015).

Government response?
The recent statement in response to a question in the Dáil - itself no paragon of virtue when it comes to facilitate the use of the National Language - elicited a response from the Minister of State for Gaeltacht Affairs, Joe McHugh TD which appears to confirm Dr Ó Laighin's assertion. (Source: Report in Irish from Seán Tadhg Ó Gairbhí in 11 June 2015).

He said that an examination was been made by his department, the Taoiseach's Department and EU Institutions of the services at present provided in Irish and on “the potential to expand these services”.

In short, as in so many matters (and not only in the matter of the Language) the name of the game is obfuscation and pretence. The sort of thing that lead to the resignation in frustration of Seán Ó Cuirreáin, "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!" (to Oireachtas Committee 23 Jan 2014). He was the first Ombudsman to resign on a matter of principle in Ireland, and maybe in Europe, since the foundation of the state.

As many people have been saying of late there is little purpose in trying to rely on The Irish State in these matters. "There are stronger and more widespread forces in place (in the administration) who have little or no concern for the future of our national language." These are those, in the words of President Michael D Higgins, “for whom Irish was not half dead enough.” 

This is year 5 of the adopted 20 year scheme for Irish and this Government cannot point to any one of the recommendations that has been adopted - even those ones which would cost little or no money.

"As we begin to regain our economic sovereignty, it would be a travesty if we were to lose our linguistic sovereignty – a cornerstone of our cultural identity, heritage and soul as a nation. I believe this to be a clear and present danger." (Seán Ó Cuirreáin as he announces his resignation 6th December 2013).

It appears this belief is still valid some eighteen months later!

Saturday, June 6, 2015

"Let's do this!" - Invest in Identity! @SeoLinn Please RT (& help kick ass to grant culture!) #cicsatóin

At 10.47 - 3 Jul'15 there were 340 Backers 
€50,410 donated & 52 Hours to go!
Why not join 'em!

Here we are! How about a bit of uplifting news about Irish! And you, dear reader, have 28 days to make it happen!
Seo LInn ag Lá Mór na Geailge
Seo Linn showing what they can do - let's show 'em what we can do!
One of the reasons I set up this site was to report on happenings concerning Irish and the Gaeltacht areas especially with regard to language rights. This are for the most part ignored by the English language media except of course when there appears to be bad news. This means of course that the Irish media has an disproportionate amount of reporting in this area. A case in point is the recent publication of Conchur Ó Giollagáin's report update by Údarás na Gaeltachta. The reports in English Language media concentrated entirely on the negative aspects of the report. "Irish will be dead in ten years!" "The end of the Gaeltacht is nigh!" etc etc.

In passing 
I wonder is that also what happens to these reports when, if ever, they cross a Government Minister's desk. Certainly the lack of adherence by the State to the advice the sought on language matters would lead one to that opinion. Indeed the situation lead the first Coimisinéir Teanga to state baldly.

"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." 
In reading most of these press stories it is obvious that these writers have only superficially examined the actual report. There was in fact some good news contained in this report which was highlighted by writers in the Irish electronic media. (Unfortunately there is no Irish print media any more since this has been forced off the face of the earth by the actions of State bodies!)
Gripe over (until the next time!)

Enterprising initiative!
But that is not what I want to talk about now but rather a story of independence shown by a group of talented young men who apparently realise the futility of engaging state bodies or indeed political parties have taken a bold initiative. In the colourful phrase of the writer of the iGaeilge blog "cic sa tóin do chultúr na ndeontaisí" (A kick in the arse to grant culture!).

This enterprising group, which perform as Seo Linn, who electrified the 10,000 people who marched on Lá Mór na Gaeilge (See more pics on their Facebook page) have already proved themselves musically and now want to share their expertese in music and language to the wider audience that the know are out there. They have achieved an incredible 4.6million viewings of one of their live performances in the Conamara Irish College, Coláiste Lurgan on YouTube. (Take a look - the words are included - and sing along!) They have performed on television and before President Michael D Higgins.

The inspiring thing about this initiative is that it ignores the usual well trodden paths used by Irish Language organisations braving the dispiriting, soul destroying and interminable bureaucracy seeking grants for their initiatives. Those who are lucky enough to be successful receive this largesse but often bound up with conditions that often times render the initiative ineffective. Without the grant of course the venture falls. A small coterie of enterprises have tried this "modh díreach" of start-up with reasonable success before now. This is an exciting one and worthy of our support!

So what are they planning?
They are going directly to the public with a request for €50,000. They have definite proposals they have a date when the initiative is a success or, God forbid, a failure. We'll know by the end of the month.

Let them speak for themselves: "Seo Linn are asking YOU for help. We know that we are on the path to generating a new kind of Irish music, one that has the potential to portray the Irish language in a progressive, relevant light. We want to make Irish available.

"We have thought long and hard about this and our biggest challenge right now is to raise this money. Our hard work over the past two years has gotten us to this point and we are ready to take on a new challenge! We are confident that we will overcome any obstacles that may appear in our way."

So what practically do the intend to do with this money? They outline three practical objectives.
  1. Set up a Company that will provide music WORKSHOPS with the Irish language - These will incorporate the various elements of music production and performance into a polished, tried-and-tested workshop that teenagers will really enjoy.
  2. Record and publicise an original ALBUM - We have so much music in our unique brand that we want to share with you. An album of our work would give life to Irish language music in Ireland and abroad along with providing us with the opportunity to expand our horizons as a band and progress up the ladder as recording artists.
  3. TOUR - a crucial part of every band's road to success is touring and gigging. We want to bring our music all over the world and provide the show that gets people talking. Our unifying of the old and new of our cultural identity is an aspect to our show that doesn't go unnoticed and we pride ourselves on ensuring that everyone enjoys the experience.
"As you can see, we have a long, tough road ahead that every single one of us is relishing! With your help, we can make our dream a reality and do something that has never been done before. We have something to offer.. and this is our chance! Go raibh míle maith agaibh."

Tacaigh le Seo Linn!
Click here to support us!
I see that they have over 9,000 followers on their facebook page, If each of those contributed €10 they will have exceeded their target handsomely.

As I write this article only 78 have backed them contributing amounts from €10 to €1000 (Yes €1000) and there are 28 days left to achieve the target. (Since we started writing about an hour ago it has risen to 82!)

When I first saw this I thought "Nah! not possible!" But then I saw the figure grow to €4000 in the first day and almost double on the second and I now believe it is eminently achievable!

In the words of the famous Buxton Water advert, Lets do this!"

Seo Linn

Is you want to read what has written about this and view another video.
€50,000 ag teastáil ó Seo Linn dá dtogra Kickstarter!(Irish)

And take a view of this unforgetable appearance on the Late Late Show.