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