The slapping down of an elected representative of the Irish People in a forum of the European Union received little or no coverage in the English Language media in Ireland. It is only now receiving some coverage in the world press.
Adressing an International Conference on Language Rights recently Dr Professor P. B. Ó Laighin, a renowned expert on European Language Rights, following his meeting with representatives of the Taoiseach Enda Kenny stated: "To my knowledge a decision in principle has been made by the Government .... that the derogation will be renewed from the 1st January 2017." (my translation)
One of the elected members of the European Parliament vowed that she would speak only Irish at the institutions and meetings of the assembly for the first half of March 2015 (1st to 17th March 2015 which is called, perhaps euphamistially, Seachtain na Gaeilge - the Week of Irish!). Her first opportunity was on 2nd March 2015. During a joint meeting of Budgets and Economic and Monetary Affairs committees on March 2 Representative Liadh Ní Riada (Sinn Féin spoke in Irish - her native language and mother tongue - and this is what happened (this video last about 1 minute)
Though the chair of the meeting (who I believe was French and normally uses his own language officially translated for those whose French is not up to scratch) refers to a "decision of the Bureau" it is in fact a decision requested by the Irish Government and agreed by the other members of the union. Thus it is a matter for the Irish Government and the Taoiseach to decide in this matter. Sign the petion requesting this to happen!
A professional poll last month found that 70 percent of people in Ireland favoured the provision of all public services in Irish. But the Government is still inactive. Well might Seán Ó Cuirreáin, (the Coimisinéir Teanga who resigned in frustration at the lack of leadership from the present government) say: "... tick-tock, Tempus fugit and if, as is said in Irish, 'God’s mills grind slowly' it appears the wheels of the state turn more slowly still, particularly in the case of the language..." (23 January 2014 Translation the Coimisinéir's Office).
Perhaps another irony is the stance of the Party so well represented by this courageous woman. When I go to their website I am confronted with the Queen's English and even if I click the very difficult to find "Gaeilge" button, (See if you can find it!), there is little if no change except the headings which (when they work) lead to mish match of material which eventually leads on to more English pages. Press releases from Sinn Féin are general monolingualy Queen's English except the refer to Irish, the Gaeltacht or they are issued by the Senator from Galway West.
Maybe I am being a bit harsh and indeed in comparison with the other main parties north and south they are streets ahead. But if they wish to lead the Irish People they must respect its language and history and ethos. Look at their conduct in the houses of the Oireachtas. Yes they use the occasional phrases in Irish but evan the members whose mother tongue is Irish never (to my knowledge) use Irish in the house to discuss items other that Gaeltacht or Irish Language issues. Has Pearse Doherty (a Gaeltacht man) ever spoken at length on finance in Irish in the house? Newcomer, Galways West's Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh does use Irish frequently but generally speaking he retreats into English? (The same criticism may be levelled at say Fianna Fáil's Éamon Ó Cuív who has not, to my knowledge, ever made a speech in Irish to the house on his Agriculture Brief!).
In the North too they are regarded with some misgivings especially their actions or lack of actions on Foras na Gaeilge when they permitted that organisation to kill the only daily newspaer in Irish and the withdrawal of funds from some vibrant organisations.
In the recent Ard Fheis of the party held in the City of that great Irishman, Colmcille, a member, Dáithí Mac a'Bhaird, spoke of movingly and passionatly of his discomfort as an Irish speaker in the Sinn Féin party.
Never the less we must acknowledge the enthusiasm of those who do espouse and understand the cause. Listen to Trevor Ó Clochartaigh at the same Ard Fheis:
“Fine Gael and the Labour have continually attacked the Irish language since they came into power. Seán Ó Cuirreáin, the Language Commissioner resigned from his position becuase of the lack of support for his work. The Official Languages Act is being amended in such a way that it is being completely weakened inasmuch as the government can get away with it.
“Heather Humphreys chose 'Google Translate' when she was launching the programme for the 1916 commemorations, reasoning that Irish has little role to play in such an event.
“Éamon Ó Cuiv and Fianna Fáil decimated the Údarás na Gaeltachta budget and Dinny McGinley followed suit. He ended direct elections to the bord to make sure that nobody could publicly condemn either the work of the organisation or government policies.
“Joe McHugh is a 'nice guy' who is making a good personal effort, but in relation to government policies regarding the Irish language – 'you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear'!
“The 20 Year Strategy for the Irish Language is not functioning and there is a crisis in Gaeltacht regions in terms of young people being able to speak the language.
“But it was heartening to see 10,000 people on the streets and they 'Red with Anger'. The Minister Carál Ní Chuilinn is highlighting the substantial investment and political drive Sinn Féin has regarding for our native language. There are other elected representatives who are promoting Irish at every level.
“It goes without saying that Irish speaking communities and the Gaeltacht would be better off with Sinn Féin in government.
“We have to tackle the hostility the civil service has in relation to the language. We have to introduce recruitment quotas so that services in Irish can become available.
“We have to strengthen and broaden the Languages Act. The Language Commissioner should also have a stronger role in overseeing the 20 Year Strategy for the Irish Language.
“Full status for Irish has to be granted in the European Union.
“There has to be a government in Dublin that will impress upon Westminister and on unionists that the promise to implement the Languages Act in the six counties must be fulfilled.
“Sinn Féin will stand with the Irish language community, if the Irish language community stands with Sinn Féin.” (Translation Sinn Féin)
Yes everything strikes a note with us but perhaps it would be more believable if the Party showed us what they could do in the areas it has control over, their speakers in the Dáil, Seanad, Northern Assembly, County Councils, their website, their public pronouncements as Gaeilge etc.
But back to Liadh Ní Riada talking about the wonderfu but so far fruitless "Lá Mór na Gaeilge" in Dublin a year ago. "What was wonderful was you could hear Irish spoken everywhere on the streets of our capital. And then you start thinking, 'My God, once upon a time this country spoke Irish all over. It is all because we were colonised and the last thing that you do in stamping out somebody's identity is crush their language."
If I may mangle an old saying, "One MEP never made a summer!"