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

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