Saturday, December 31, 2016

No Irish...Radio?

This is a letter to the Irish Times sent 28/12/2016 but unpublished. (I don't have any issue with them not publishing it - they have the unenviable job of choosing what to publish!)

Here is another letter which WAS published on the exclusion of stations dated 4th January 2017.
The article by Jim Carroll entitled “No Irish: Why the lack of home-grown acts on Irish Radio?” (Irish Times 27/12/2016) featured twenty radio stations. Many of these were unknown to this listener. Yet inexplicably the National Radio station to which he listens most was sadly omitted. Raidío na Gaeltachta may or may not broadcast many home-grown acts but Mr Carroll's article leaves us in ignorance. A case of “No Irish?”

Yours etc

Eoin Ó Riain

@IrishTimes @RTERnaG @cnag @jimcarrollOTR @WilliePenroseTD @radiomonitorirl

Thursday, December 22, 2016

140 Characters is not enough!

Recently I foolishly got involved in a twitter argument on Irish and the usefulness of language. That topic usually does get my temperature up after a short series of tweet exchanges I thought the exchange was over. But then the fray was joined rather extraordinarily by @gtcost who sent in quick succession some dozen tweets to each of which I wished to respond. But twitter is not the best way to express deep felt thoughts so I resolved to write a piece and put it up as a jpeg attachment but it became veru=y long so I resolved to put it on my English blog. I hope it is civilised and not insulting - it is not intended to be.

The why of this piece!
For what it is worth here it is:

"I live in an Irish speaking community. The community council does its business through Irish. as do our local sports organisations, church functions, local bridge clubs, drama groups etc etc. I could not be classed as a member of a language pressure group - nor could any of my neighbours. It just happens to be a "required language" in our district. (a fact lamentably ignored by the Irish state but that is perhaps an entire other argument!)

Should we abandon it? Your logic seems to be that we should abandon or at least sideline that heritage (as so many other parts of Ireland have either voluntarily or otherwise done; to deprive the people of a country of the opportunity to link with the heritage of the oldest written language of Europe which is still in daily vernacular use.

You seem to say that the study of our own language in some way is a hindrance to the study of the other subjects and ideas mentioned. I would hesitate myself to make such a bold claim as to put such a limit to the ability of the human intellect.

I think that is the tragedy of this way of thinking reflects the attitude described by our President some years ago when he referred to those “for whom Irish was not half dead enough.” (2010).

Indeed our first President stated unequivocally many year ago: "the Irish language is worth knowing, or why would the greatest philologists of Germany, France, and Italy be emulously studying it, and it does possess a literature, or why would a German savant have made the calculation that the books written in Irish between the eleventh and seventeenth centuries, and still extant, would fill a thousand octavo volumes." (1882)

Is it still worth knowing?

Recently a project on modern Irish writers has been published with portraits and short biographies. These can truly be described as Irish writers in the tradtions of those scholors and writers who went before like Céitinn and Raifteirí etc. Yet so many of their fellow country men and women are ignorant of this flowering of Irish literature. Look it up on line at (It is English as well as in our own language!).

Are they wasting their time writing prose and poetry for our delight and sometimes enlightenment?

An American professor in the field of mathamathics has been involved with others in translating the various platforms facebook, twitter, etc for use with Irish - I use both and they work fine. Users may choose Irish as their language of choice on their mobile phones. Firefox, the popular browsing platform is available in Irish as are Microsoft programs.

Are they wasting their money?

Almost 8000 people follow the Gaeilge Amháin facebook page and they are by no means all Irish by blood. I have seen Japanese, Dutch, Americans, Russia, English and Finnish contributors among others.

Should this be classed as "zero universal (as in cross-national) value?"

Me? I am not competent to discuss the merits of bi-lingualism and there are many studies that may be found using Google I do know from my own experience that my life has been enriched by my knowledge of English and a also of Latin and through this knowledge I have a smattering of German and make my way through the Latin-languages. I also find I have an little understanding of the Scottish languages and even Welsh which comes from the enriching influence of learning the National Language.

Quite frankly I was shocked at the defensive - or was it hostile? – of these dozen or so tweets. English, still less the fabric of Irish society is not damaged by our love or our learning of our own language. On the contrary losing our linguistic sovereignty – a cornerstone of our cultural identity, heritage and soul as a nation - is a clear and present danger. (vide Seán Ó Cuirreáin's final address to an Oireachtas Committee Jan 2013)

I am sad that you do not appear to understand that."

Monday, November 7, 2016

I will not yield!

During the celebrations to mark the 20th birthday of TG4 (Halloween 2016) a short piece was broadcast featuring the talented actress Bríd Ní Neachtain. It was penned by Niamh Ní Bhaoill, and expresses strongly the frustration of the Irish speaking and Gaeltacht community within their own country.  This is the video and below is a translation in English.

We have put the original language in a box on the right so people can follow the text as Bríd speaks it if they wish!

What is wrong with us anyway?
Céard atá cearr linn ar aon chaoi?

An bhfuil ár gcloigne sáite chomh fada sin suas ár gcuid tónacha nach dtuigeann muid go bhfuil an todhchaí tagtha cheana féin? An bhfuil ár dteanga caillte againn? Sin sin! Ró-mhall! Chaill muid an cath. Nó ar chaill?

An cath a bhí ann ar aon chaoi? Cé a dúirt gurb ea?

Nach mbeadh sé iontach a bheith in ann do theanga féin a labhairt is gan a bheith ag streachailt leis i gcónaí? Gan a bheith ag troid ar son cearta? Gan a bheith ag éileamh seirbhísí? Gan a bheith dod' chur féin soir leis? Gan a bheith go síoraí á cosaint? Nárbh fhearr i bhfad an t-airgead a chaitheamh ar ospidéil, nó bóithre, aon rud eile, deir siad linn. Níor chóir go mbeadh iachall ar dhaoine í a fhoghlaim ar scoil, dar leo. Iachall? Tá mé a cheapadh go bhfuair a chuile dhuine a chaith coicís saoire riamh i Sasana an "exemption". Seans go bhfaighinn féin ceann dá mbeinn á iarraidh.

Agus céard atá fágtha dóibh siúd atá ag iarraidh staidéar a dhéanamh ar an nGaeilge? Leagan chomh cúng, chomh bunúsach, chomh simplí gur ar éigin go bhfuil aon bhlas dár litríocht, dár bhfilíocht, dár saibhreas teangan fágtha chun go gcuirfeadh ár scoláirí aithne uirthi, go mbeadh deis acu titim i ngrá léi.

Tá sé i bhfad níos éasca gan a bheith i do ghaeilgeoir, gan aon dualgas ort foirmeacha dothuigthe a líonadh isteach ar líne, gan a bheith ag fanacht le "do ghnó a dhéanamh trí Ghaeilge", agus ar deireadh thiar thall nuair a fhaigheanns tú duine, nach mbíonn a fhios ag an diabhal bocht céard atá á rá agat?

Ba bhreá liom éirí maidin eicint agus nach mbeadh orm m'ainm a litriú go deo arís, nach gcuirfeadh éinne ceist orm "Cad é an béarla air sin?"

Gread leat! Is é m'ainm é! Is é an t-aon ainm amháin atá agam.

Ní ghéillfidh mise.

Is í mo theanga í!

Are our heads so long stuck up our arses that we don't understand that the future has already come?

Have we lost our language (tongue)? That's that! Too late! We lost the battle. Or did we? Was it a battle anyway? Who said it was?

Wouldn't it be wonderful to be able to speak your own language and not be always struggling? Not to be fighting for rights? Not to be demanding services? Not to be driving yourself mad with it? Not to be constantly defending it? Would it not be a lot better to spend the money on hospitals, or roads, anything else, they tell us. It is not proper that people should be forced to learn it at school, according to them. Forced? It seems to me that everyone who ever spent a fortnight's holiday in England got the exemption. Perhaps I would get one myself if I wanted it.

And what is left for those who want to study the Irish language? A version so narrow, so basic, so simple that there is hardly anything of our literature, of our poetry, of our linguistic richness left in order for the students to get to know it, so that they might have an opportunity to fall in love with it.

It is a lot easier not to be an Irish speaker, no duty to fill out unintelligible forms online, no waiting to "do your business through the medium of Irish" and finally when you do get somebody, that the poor divil does not know what you are saying.

I would like to get up some morning and not have to ever spell my name again, that no one would ask me "What is that in English?"

Feck off! It's my name! It's the only name I have!

I will not yield.

It's my language!

Bear in mind that some of the subtleties of language are always lost in translation and indeed words regarded as unacceptable in English polite society are fine in other languages (and vice versa!). Emphasis in one language may be lost in the second, for example "Mise" is a far more emphatic word than "mé" though both are usually translated as the English word "I."

• See translation here too with word/phrase guide.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Bring back the tally stick!

Bar worker leaves his job on receiving warning not to speak Irish.

Official Statement tweeted by The Flying Enterprise. (9/9/2016 - note incorrect English used!)
I had Raidío na Gaeltachta on shortly before lunchtime today. I wasn't really listening to it it was just on when I suddenly heard something that I thought had been banished with the arrival of independance. The banning of the use of the national language.

Cormac at RnaG
The programme was Saol ó Dheas, which is an hour of programming from the south of the country every day. (I usually listen to the programmes for the West since I live there but I usually leave the radio on while working and sometimes, as in this case, I hear something that attracts my attention from the other areas like later today I was transfixed by the Haka on Rónán Beo - and he was - look at his Facebook page if you don't believe me!)

‘This is an English-speaking business’ – oibrí beáir éirithe as a phost i gCorcaigh tar éis rabhadh a fháil gan Gaeilge a labhairt. (, 8/9/2016)
Cosc ar oibrí tábhairne i gCorcaigh Gaeilge a labhairt. (RTÉ, 8/9/2016)
In a further article a prominent lawyer gives an opinion on the legal position. (, 9/9/2016)
Fired for speaking Irish in Irelands English only pub. (ASR-9/9/2016)
A barman from the Gaeltacht has been banned from speaking Irish in a Cork pub. (The Journal - 9/9/2016)
Irish barman told to stop speaking Irish language in Cork pub (Belfast Telegraph 9/9/2016)
'This is an English-speaking business' - Young Gaeilgeoir told to stop speaking native language in Irish pub. (Irish Independent - 9/9/2016)
Irish speaking barman leaves job after being told ‘not to speak’ Irish. (Irish Times-9/9/2016)
Cork pub 'surprised' after former employee claims he quit after being told not to speak Irish. (Irish Examiner-9/9/2016)
Not Allowed To Speak Irish In Ireland - A Nasty Reminder Of British Colonialism (TransCeltic - 9/9/2016)
A barman from the Gaeltacht has been banned from speaking Irish in a Cork pub (Francais Express - 9/9/2016)
Call for legal protection for Irish speaking workers following Cork bar issue (Examiner - 10/9/2016)
Personiel Ierske kroech mei gjin Iersk prate (It Nijs - 10/9/2016)
Caithfear reachtaíocht láidir a bheith ann chun cearta teanga a neartú (Sinn Féin 10/9/2016)
Irish-speaking barman chose to leave his job (Examiner - 10/9/2016)
Barman ‘cannot believe’ reaction to story about Irish in work (Irish Times  - 10/9/2016)
Cormac Ó Bruic is a young man working in Cork city. Apparently he was forbidden from speaking his own language in his place of work, a language which is the National Language. This man is from an Irish speaking area. He was wont to speak with another member of staff from his home place in their language and also with others in the staff who were able to use Irish. He was puzzled that somebody in Ireland would insist that he desist from using this language.

He found it totally incomprehensible that, as was alleged, a complaint was received because he used his own language.  His own experience was that customers appreciated and indeed were delighted to hear it been spoken and he often spoke it with customers who had some familiarity with it or who were from Gaeltacht areas.

When contacted by the programme management stated that he had been warned about speaking Irish and thay as they employed several nationalities and that chaos would ensue if they all spoke in their own language. It did not matter if it was the National language as  ‘English-speaking business!"

Cormac could not fathom, nor can he yet, this attitude. "I would not work in that place again!' he declared.

The establishment in question, Cork's The Flying Enterprise, was also contacted by the Radio station and an incredibly narrow minded viewpoint was shown by the management there.

People must speak a certain language in the same way as they must wear special clothing in the bar. There was a "Language Code" in use in this tavern, “because it is a hospitality business”. When he was reminded by the interviewer that Irish is the national language of Ireland the reposte was "We're all Europeans!"

Maybe this attitude will change when that nation, whose language English is, leaves the European Union!

Don't hold your breadth!

Note on the tally stick:

Friday, July 8, 2016

The mask slips...again!

Shortly after this piece was published the Minister blocked the writer from her twitter account.
Translation "You have no permission to follow @mitchelloconnor or to view tweets from @mitchelloconnor!"

The Minister of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, let slip the mask yesterday in the Dáil (7 Jul 2016).

The Minister
In a debate on the "Banded Hours Contract Bill 2016," a private members bill, the Minister is reported as having said, “The Bill adds significant burdens. It requires every employer to display notices in the workplace. These notices will have to show the number of hours being allocated to workers in the next week or month and the relevant bands."

Fair enough but then she continued, “These notices will have to be in English and Irish and in other languages as required. Imagine telling a Silicon Valley company that it has to display work rosters as Gaeilge in Ireland.” 

Other Comments
Here is a comment (in Irish) on the iGaeilge Blog. Its title is good as it draws the attention to the percieved ambivelence of the Irish administration in tax matters with relation to large International conglomerates!
“Imagine asking a Silicon Valley company to pay taxes in Ireland” (8/7/2016)
This also has an unforgettable video of this same public representatives inglorious exit from Leinster House on one of her first days as a TD!
Leaving aside the question as to just how significant a burden is the provision of notices in any language, let alone Irish, does not this little aside from the Minister highlight a bias and a prejudice we have seen before? Does it not highlight the Fine Gael party's attitude in general to the National Language?

One remark on twitter in response stated "Can you imagine telling the people of the Gaeltacht to do their business with the Jobs' Department in English?" (my translation). In effect this is almost universally the case. In fact in my own experience since the abolition of Irish as a requisite for joining the Civil Service, also by a Fine Gael minister in 1974, the matter of dealing with almost any Government Department in the National Language is difficult. It lead to another twitter remark "Fine Gall ar a seanaphort cúng gearr radharcach!" ("Fine Gall at its old narrow shortsightedness!"). Note the change the twitter makes to the name of the party - "Fine Gall" = "Family of Foreigners."

Indeed as eminant a person as Supreme Court Justice, the late Adrien Hardiman stated bluntly, "... the stark reality that the individual who seeks basic legal materials in Irish will more than likely be conscious of causing embarrassment to the officials from whom he seeks them and will certainly become conscious that his business will be much more rapidly and efficaciously dealt with if he resorts to English. I can only say that this situation is an offence to the letter and spirit of the Constitution." (Translation of review: : Ó Beoláin v.Fahy [2001] 2 I.R. 279)

On the same day as the Minister displayed her views President Michael D Higgins was quoting from P. H. Pearse - “The language movement is, of course, only a part of the national movement, but it is its most important part – the part which gives vitality and coherence to the whole.” (Translation from President's Office) Indeed this is not the first time the President has referred to the unique place of the National Language and the "apparant" lack of regard for it by State officialdom.

Not only is he echoing Pearse, Hyde, our First President and indeed the person to whom one would imagine all Fine Gael party members would revere, General Michael Collins. He declared shortly before his tragic assassination, "...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..." (The Path to Freedom, Michael Collins: 1922).

It would appear that the Fine Gael party as a whole have forgotten if not abandoned that aspiration.

@FineGael @JobsEnterInnov @ceartateanga 

Monday, June 27, 2016

Loophole precludes Presidential appointee from resolving problems!

An Coimisinéir Teanga is appointed by the President of Ireland on the advice of the government following a resolution passed by the Houses of the Oireachtas recommending the appointment. The current Coimisinéir Teanga is Rónán Ó Domhnaill appointed by President Michael D O'Higgins in 2014.

The Annual Report of An Coimisinéir Teanga for 2015 shows that the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources contravened a statutory language obligation during the rollout of the national postcode system, Eircode. This single issue attracted the highest ever volume of complaints since the establishment of the Office in 2004. 
Click Image to see larger version of Stats Histograms


The largest number of complaints (34.6%) related to the implementation of commitments made by public bodies in statutory language schemes agreed under section 11 of the Act.

There was a decrease from 25.7% to 21.6% in the percentage of the complaints relating to the use of Irish on public bodies’ signage and stationery, in accordance with the Regulations under subsection 9(1) of the Act.

There was a decrease in the percentage of complaints relating to a breach of the provisions of other enactments concerning the status or use of Irish, from 3.8% to 1.5%. 

Of course, complaints relating to the use of Irish on road signs belong by right to this category, but this is generally provided as an independent figure: 8.3% of complaints related to the use of Irish on traffic signs, a small increase on last year’s figure (7.2%). The obligations on roads authorities in respect of road
traffic signage are set out in the Traffic Signs Manual.
Most complaints to the Office related to names, surnames and addresses having been translated to English versions, during the rollout of the Eircodes. This occurred despite the fact that the complainants concerned generally used their name and address only in Irish. An Coimisinéir Teanga held that the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources contravened a statutory obligation regarding Gaeltacht placenames when Eircodes were sent to householders in the Gaeltacht with the addresses in English. 

Stymied by loophole!
An Coimisinéir Teanga, Rónán Ó Domhnaill, said when publishing the Annual Report today, that “having one’s identity recognised in one’s official language of choice is a fundamental right”. He stated that his Office receives a substantial number of complaints in relation to people’s difficulty in using their name and address in Irish with various state organisations. An Coimisinéir Teanga pointed out that this illustrates the glaring need to amend the legislation in order to protect the use of a person’s name and address in the country’s first official language and that the proposal made by his Office more than five years ago on the matter should be implemented. Due to this loophole in the legislation, An Coimisinéir Teanga was unable to satisfactorily resolve the complaints relating to people’s names and surnames being translated to English when the Eircodes were delivered. 

Serving English speakers only
On a separate matter, An Coimisinéir Teanga referred to the very low number of posts with an Irish language requirement that are being identified by Government Departments. An Coimisinéir Teanga said that, in light of this approach, serious questions arise in relation to the State’s willingness to provide services of the same standard in Irish and in English. He said that action should be taken now to strengthen the Official Languages Act in line with recommendations arising from the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht, from the public consultation process, from presentations made by him to Oireachtas committees on the implementation of the Act, and from the commentary published by the Office on the operation of the Act’s provisions. 

“The increase of 6.5% in the number of complaints and the increase of 79% in the number of advices to public bodies in the last year demonstrates that the language needs of the Irish speaking community in accessing State services need to be properly catered for”, said Rónán Ó Domhnaill.


Saturday, May 21, 2016

"The law must take its course!" #Mám1882

The President of Ireland is to be presented with a copy of this book by the Author on 16th June 2016 at Aras an Uachtaráin.

The Judge placed the black cap on his head and a deep silence filled the courtroom.

"The sentence of this court is, and I do judge and order that you, Myles John Joyce, be taken from the bar of this court where you now stand to the place from which you came, and that you be removed to her Majesty's prison at Galway, and that on Friday the 15th day of December next of this year of Our Lord, 1882, and you be taken to the common place of execution, within the walls of the prison in which you shall be confined, and that you shall there be hanged by the neck until you be dead, and that your body be buried within the precincts of the prison in which you shall last be confined after your conviction.

And may the Lord have mercy on your soul."

There was a stunned silence before hesitant applause broke out.

This was probably the most moving moment at the launch of a book by Seán Ó Cuirreáin, "Éagóir - Maolra Seoight agus dúnmhairithe Mhám Trasna." A meticulously researched account of the most horrifying murder of almost every member of a family in a remote part of what was then North Galway and the subsequent trial and conviction of neighbours and relations. These events attracted such interest far and wide that it eventually contributed in no small measure to the downfall of the British Government of William Gladstone.

The book launch was made more poignant by the fact that it occurred in the actual courtroom in which these men, most of whom were unable to comprehend what was going on. They had no English, nor any knowledge of the British legal process.

The historic courthouse which saw the trials of Wolfe Tone, Robert Emmet and John Mitchell now saw these eight men arraigned before a hostile legal system which made little or no effort to understand the position of these "wretched Irish-speaking creatures" - to use the words of Defence counsel.
Today there is little change in physical make-up of the courtroom.

The sole witness dismissed without telling his story!
There, the Dock where the eight accused stood uncomprehendingly. There, the witness boxes where perjured testimony was delivered. Below the table where the barristers sat and on which the only survivor, a 9 or 10 year old boy, stood before being dismissed, with out questioning on the events of that fateful night. Over there the jury box with twelve "good men and true" with absolutely no knowledge of the life or language of people living on a mountainside in the west of Ireland might be. And there the bench where sat the Honourable Judge Barry.

A former Minister for the Gaeltacht, Éamon Ó Cuív spoke of the injustice that lead to the hanging of Maolra Seoighe (Myles Joyce), an injustice visited to a lesser extent in terms of result but nevertheles a State inflicted injustice familiar to Irish speakers to this day. He drew a comparison between the last recorded words (translated) of Myles Joyce with those of St Thomas More. "I am going befor my God, I was not there that day. I had not hand or part in it. God forgive those who swore against me...." And More: "Tomorrow, long I to go to God....In good faith, Mr. Rich (who bore false witness against him), I am more concerned for your perjury than my own danger"

A descendant of the murdered family Johnny Joyce, a Dublin footballer spoke briefly about the story as it came dowm through his own family and of forgivness for those who actually committed the murder.

Seán Ó Cuirreáin
Then, from the Jury Box, Seán Ó Cuirreáin read an extract form the book which terminated with the enacting of the Trial Judge' condemnation and the dramatic sentencing.

Despite much pleading, three of the eight were hanged including the incontrovertibly innocent  Myles Joyce. The final chilling response from The Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, "The law must take its course!" sealed their fate.

That there was an injustice done is not in doubt in the case of Myles Joyce but the British Justice system is always loath to row back on judicial decisions in law. Remember the phrase of the English Master of the Rolls of an "appalling vista." and "It cannot be right that these actions (appeal of Birmingham six convictions) should go any further."

Several British Peers, the late Lord Avebury and Lord Alton, whose Mother was herself from the Tuar Mhic Éadaigh Gaeltacht, the parish of Mám Trasna, have been active on the case. Indeed the British Minister of Justice is convinced of the validity of the case but is unwilling to act unless there is sufficient interest.

Hopefully this publication will strengthen the case.

An excellent review of the book has been written by Dr John Walsh (UCG) which appeared in (in Irish)
Sárleabhar a thugann ómós cuí d’fhir bhochta ar chiontaigh an Choróin go héagórach iad (A superb book that pays overdue respect to poor men unjustly condemned by the Crown)
• Seán Ó Cuirreáin: Éagóir - Maolra Seoighe agus dúnmharuithe Mhám Trasna
ISBN: 978-1-907494-61-1 Foilsithe - Cois Life: 2016.  €15.00

See Also
Pictures from the book launch have been published by
A wrongful hanging in Conamara (Lorna Siggins, Irish Times 20/5/2016)

Pieces we published on the commemorations in 2012:
Commemoration of Mamtrasna 1882 miscarriage! (20/11/2012)
Pictures discovered after 130 years! (15/1/2013)

• I have written my own comments on this book now on my personal blog:  Géileadh don dlí - cóir nó éagóir! (Submit to the law - just or unjust!)

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Language rights in Wales/Ireland.

Many people struggle in Ireland to engage with many State Organisations in the National Language.

This short nicely produced video from the Welsh Language Commissioner emphasises this right in that country in a simple way. The word is #hawliau in Irish #Cearta.

In Ireland the place to contact when your constitutional language rights are curtailed is the Comisinéir Teanga.

Wales of course does not have a constitution and it therefore relys on, at worst, the whims, and at best the goodwill, of legislators in Westminster and Cardiff. In Ireland the basic rights are conferred by Bunracht na hÉireann (1937 - 2015) enacted by the sovereign people.

An Coimisinéir Teanga
An Spidéal,
Co. na Gaillimhe.
Phone: (091) 504006
Fax: (091) 504036

The Coimisinéir Teanga is also active on twitter: @ceartateanga.

Let's join in the conversation?

@Ceartateanga #hawliau #Cearta

Monday, February 29, 2016

What connects a pony and cart in 1905 & drink driving in 2015! #CeartaTeanga

Language Rights: What a distance between the attitude today and the mind of Pearse!

Last Tuesday was the anniversary of a remarkable event in Irish, and possibly European history. An Ombdsman resigned. That may not be remarkable in itself but he fact that this ombudsman resigned on principle is. He resigned rather that be judged as "complicit in deceit."

Shortly before his resignation took place Seán Ó Cuirreáin said "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.  I am absolutely certain that I made the correct decision." (Oireachtas Sub Committee 23 Jan 2014)
Seán Ó Cuirreáin agus Uachtarán na hÉireann
It created a great sadness, not to say anger in the people who had felt more and more oppressed for many years now - the Irish speaking community in the Gaeltacht and throughout the rest of the country. They voiced their anger in large demonstrations in Dublin and Belfast attended by thousands of people. It also marked an extraordinary demonstration in South Conamara, Slán le Seán,  to mark this event and a very real affection for this man whom the President of Ireland called "one of the most courteous people I have ever met," and paid tribute to his " integrity and intellectual honesty." 

He has correctly maintained a strict silence since his resignation for a reasonable time. This has allowed his successor in office time to settle in and familiarise himself with the office.

Two court cases!
The journal has invited a number of people to write articles on various aspects of life as part of the commemorations of the centenary of the 1916 Rising. One of these was Seáon Ó Cuirreáin and his piece was published on Thursday morning. It is entitled "100 years since the rising and compulsory English is all but inevitable!" (Gaeilge). In this article he compares two courtcases just over a century apart to illustrate the attitude of the State systems, albeit two different states, to the language, that language which is the oldest living written language in Europe.

P.H. Pearse - Counsel before Kings Bench
In this article he compares two legal cases. The first was a famous case in 1905, taken by the then British state against Niall Mac Giolla Bhríde of Craoslach in Co Donegal. He had been arrested by the local constabulary because the name he was obliged to have on the side of his cart was "illegible." It had been written in the old Gaelic Script. He was found guilty and fined two shillings. The case was appealed to the Court of the Kings Bench. P.H. Pearse was the defending counsel but the court judged that it was illegal for a person to use his name in Irish or in the Irish script.

One hundred and ten years later Mihai Avadenei, a Romanian, was arrested and found guilty of driving under the influence of alcohol. On appeal he pointed out that the law had transgressed his language rights as the document, issued in Store Street Garda Station, in which the details of the levels on alcohol in his blood was in English alone whereas the law, enacted four years previously, clearly stated that it ought to be in both Irish and English. He had not claimed that he was an Irish speaker but relied solely on the wording of the law.

The Government regarded this not as a failure of the Garda authorities to act on the law but rather as a weakness in the law itself. An emergency ruling was issued to change this law stating that this form should be in English or in Irish rather than bilingual.

An Trucailín Donn

Lá aonaigh san earrach 's mé 'taisteal go triopallach,
Trasna an droichid i Muileann na hAbhann,
Sea chonaic mé Bobby gurbh ainm dó Thuigyme,
'S é ag druidim 'mo choinne go teann.

Agus óro bog liom í, bog liom í bog liom í,

Óro bog liom í an trucailín donn.
Óro bog liom í, druid liom í, corraigh í,
Óro bog liom í an trucailín donn.

Ba ghairid go bhfaca mé asal is trucail bheag,

Chugainn ar sodar faoi Mhícheál an Gabha,
Siúd leis an Bobby: "This cart has no signature,
Only a lingo I cannot make out!"

Agus óro bog liom í...

"Your name my good man, and answer right quickly now."

"Amharc ar an trucail, nó an bhfuileann tú dall?
Tá m'ainmse breacaithe i dteanga a thuigimse
Is fógraím tusa go hIfreann lom!"

Agus óro bog liom í...

"Ten shillings with costs or a fortnight's imprisonment,

Next on the list. Take this reprobate down!"
"Cuirtear faoi ghlasa mé feasta, a ghlagaire,
Pingin de m'sheilbh ní fheicfidh sibh ann."

Agus óro bog liom í...

Níl trucail gan ainm bhreá lacanta legible,

Gaeilge le feiceáil i Muileann na hAbhann
Agus ceardaithe an bhaile sea tugaid ar Thuigyme,
Fós ná "Trucailín Mhicín an Gabha".

This is a popular little song written commemorating the story of Niall Mac Giolla Bhríde's little brown cart.
Ó Cuirreáin states that it is difficult to believe that there was a deficiency in a law that was amended urgently in 2015. There was however a significant failing in the following of this law by the Garda Authorities. The simple cure for this problem was an direction to the Garda to amend their system fully to comply with the law as originally formatted in 2011. However for some reason it appears it was easier to change the law than to fulfill it.

These two court cases - 110 years apart - show how difficult it appears to be to create or to allow a space in the the administration of the law and the courts for "the language of the Gael!"

Not only the courts
But, maintains the former Coimisnéir, this problem does not apply to the courts alone.

In 1928, his research has shown, the Government of the day decided to allow a period of three years for all state services to be available in the language of the people to Gaeltacht areas. His research further discovered that between 1928 and 1966 this direction was postponed 54 times for a further six to twelve months. (see report on the opening of Coláiste na hÉireann - 4 Sept 2013). In fact this regulation was never implemented.

In 1974 Richie Ryan, then Minister for Finance, announced as a further strengthening rather than a weakening of the position of Irish the abolition of a requirement of knowledge of Irish in the civil service. Indeed after his appointment as Comisinéir, Seán Ó Cuirreáin discovered that the points system that was instituted to protect the use of Irish in state services was never correctly operated. When this was pointed the Government instituted an even worse system despite the fact that the Coimisinéir wrote to both the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste of the day that the State employees would provide a service in Irish on a "voluntary" system. It is obvious he maintains, that this is a further marginalisation of services from the state in the National Language.

Quite frankly he says, "it appears to me that it is a cynical exercise, without any advantage to language rights, to promise the community language rights in law without ensuring an effective system to ensure the availability of those rights; that is not the case at present." (our translation)

He maintains that there are indeed some advances for Irish, for instance in communications media and the education system. But it is cast to one side more than ever in the public administration system and there is no sign to be seen at present that this will change!

There are of course some state employees who support and understand the position of the language but they are a minority and sidelined. Over all are those for whom, in the words of An tUachtarán, Micheál D Ó hUiginn some years ago, "..the Irish language isn’t half dead enough.” There are those too who believe there is a simple answer to those who select, or who have been born speaking Irish - "Speak Irish with each other but speak English to us!"

What a distance there is between that attitude and that which he imagines was strongly in the heart of Pearse of an Ireland "Free and Gaelic" and he defending the position of Niall Mac Giolla Bhríde before the Kings Bench in 2005.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

When you answer the door can they answer your questions?

Patrick Griffin is finding it difficult to get a coherent response from the canvessers!

Any answers?
At the beginning of the contests in the Roman Colosseum, 2,000 years ago, the cry went out, "Let the games begin". And when the games had concluded, there were the victorious and the vanquished, the winners and losers, the mighty and the defeated. The victors reveled in their new found positions and held on for dear life to their status.

Nothing has really altered. Today, the games are called General Elections. The cast and the scenery may have changed, but the plot remains basically the same. All of the contestants are well intentioned and geared for battle, and the victorious make promises of better lives for all.

At this stage I would like to pose the question, what makes us who we are? Like proud people of any culture we value our language, songs, art, theatre, folklore, cuisine and sports. Internationally we are defined by the massive contributions we have made in the fields of literature and music. Our use of the English language has been enriched by the musicality of the Irish language, which infuses our daily conversations. Indeed, in relation to our grasp of our native tongue, the 2011 Census declared that more than 40% of our population claimed at least some ability to speak the language. This brings me to the point of this article, and the preamble to the game we call the General Election. Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting canvassers from various political parties. They plied their wares, set out their stalls and told me of their plans to make my future rosier and more pleasant. These salesmen and sales ladies, of neatly wrapped political promises, asked me if I had any concerns, which they would gladly clarify for me.

Living Wikipedias on Health and USC
I asked them that if I had a question about the current state of our health system, would they be able to give me an answer. Of course, they replied. Well actually I didn't need to know anything about our health system, I told them, but it was reassuring that they had answers.
In relation to the Universal Social Charge, a similar question got the same reply. They had the answers, but, I was asked, what exactly did I need to know? Again I said that I felt safe and comfortable knowing that they would reassure me, if ever the occasion arose, when I had a sleepless night worrying about the intricacies of the USC.
These kind people were virtual, living, breathing Wikipedias, repositories of all knowledge relating to the smoothly oiled running of our dear little country.

The unanswered question!
The following parties & 200 candidates have
agreed to the above commitments to date.

Fianna Fáil, 
Sinn Féin, 
People Before Profit,
The Anti-Austerity Alliance
Then I said that really I had only one question on which I would like come clarification, namely, what was being done about the Irish Language. In some cases, when I posed that question, I was met with blank stares and glazed looks. At best, feeble attempts were made to reassure me that the state of our native tongue was safe and in good hands. But concrete answers were hard to come by. In relation to almost any other question I might have posed about health, finances, taxes, employment or education, there were sharp, clear cut, well defined answers, which at least gave me the impression that the state of the nation was safe. But when it came to querying their vision for one of the pillars of our culture, the answers at best were unclear and muddy.

No less a person than Nelson Mandela said, "If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart".

But time after time, if one phones up a government department and tries to connect with a Gaelic speaker, it ends up to be a futile attempt, because of the inability of departments and offices to provide such a service. If one queries why so many department offices cannot provide a Gaelic speaker, one is informed that there is no real demand. So, in the end, callers give up. This ends up being a self-perpetuating cycle. It becomes less frustrating to conduct one's business in English, and so, because of that, we are told 'there is no demand for Irish'. 

1175+ new jobs?
I struggle with the language, though at least I am making an attempt. But it is staggering to find out, at a time when there is resurgence in Gaelic language classes, that Government Funding Allocation for the Gaeltacht, and the Irish language in general, is €18,000,000 less than in 2009. Investing this amount in an Irish Language and Gaeltacht plan would expand the use of Irish and potentially create 1,175+ new jobs. Funding is diminishing, and promises, under the pretentious title of the '20 Year Strategy for the Irish Language', seem more fitting in an episode of 'The Twilight Zone', entertaining but meaningless.

Sometimes, our native Irish speakers are viewed as remnants of bygone age, living in the past, holding onto something that has no real value anymore in this enlightened age. But, armaments would be dusted off and polished, and knives would be sharpened, should one suggest to the French, the Germans, the Italians, that since English is almost the universal language of trade and commerce and international agreements, that their own native languages did not really matter anymore.

Yet, when it comes to one of the major strands of our own culture, successive governments seem to fall short of the mark when it comes to supporting the continuing life of our native tongue. I do not live in the past, but it was once declared that, "The Irish language is an essential of Irish nationality. It is more; it is its chief depository and safeguard”. That was said by Patrick Pearse. Does it seem fitting, therefore, that in this year, the 100th anniversary of 1916, part of our very core, whether we realise it or not, is being obliterated. Irish is part of our identity, our culture, our music, our literature, our conversation, our image. We cannot let it fade away. It is also vital that a joint Oireachtas committee is established for the Irish language and the Gaeltacht, one that has the same standing as other joint Oireachtas committees.

And still we do not have a senior Minister for Irish and the Gaeltacht. We need such a Minister, and one who has a strong grasp of the language so that there is a proper Irish language input at the Government table.

But, keeping the aforementioned 'games' in mind, promises will be made. We will be told that of course it is important to hold onto the 'Cúpla Focal'. It is more than a 'couple of words' that we need to retain. It is vital that we keep the life blood of the language flowing. As for me, I will keep asking the above questions.

How often have we all said about various things in our lives, that we didn't realise how important and valuable they were, until they had disappeared?  Do we want to leave future generations with a culture that has one pillar missing? Don't think for one moment that I am saying that our health services are unimportant, or that having a little more disposable cash is not a desirable thing. These are issues which can be fixed. Money lost can be gained again, a damaged health service can be repaired, but a language lost is lost forever. These are issues I will continue to put to our canvassers and politicians.

As I said at the beginning, 'Let the Games Begin', or, to put it in more modern parlance, 'It's Show Time'.

#GaelVóta #GE16

Thursday, February 4, 2016

President to open International Conference in Galway!

The President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins will open the International Association of Language Commissioners Conference in Galway next month. The President has demonstrated a big interest in language rights and people will look forward to his oration. It was also announced that Mr Justice Adrian Hardiman of the Supreme Court has agreed to give the conference address on the opening night.
Uachtarán na hÉireann
President of Ireland

The first such conference was held in Dublin in 2013 and led to the fourmation of the Association. Details of this Conference may be seen here!

An Coimisinéir Teanga Rónán Ó Domhnaill said “It’s a huge honour for Oifig an Choimisinéara Teanga that two guests so recognised with language rights are willing to attend this event.” 

The conference is being organised by Oifig an Choimisinéara Teanga in conjunction with NUI, Galway and is part of the State Centenary Programme. “There will be an opportunity throughout the year to reflect on the aims upon the State’s foundation. Central to this reflection will be our national language and its place in today’s society” said An Coimisinéir Teanga.

This is the first time the conference is being held in Galway and international experts on language rights will be in attendance. These include the Official Languages Commissioner for Canada Graham Fraser, Professor Stephen May from the University of Auckland, New Zealand, Professor Rob Dunbar from the University of Edinburgh and Professor Colin Williams from the University of Cambridge.

Recognised experts from Ireland such as Doctor John Walsh, Doctor Peadar Ó Flatharta and will also attend.

The conference takes place for March 7th to March 9th. The opening night will be in NUI, Galway and the events on Tuesday and Wednesday will take place in the Galway Bay Hotel. There is free entrance to the conference but places must be reserved beforehand by contacting Oifig an Choimisinéara Teanga.

#IALC2016Gaillimh #IALC2016Galway @ceartateanga