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?