Last Tuesday the Irish Times featured an article by Fintan O'Toole, entitled "Ireland is nobody’s little darling any more!" In it he mentions several of the recent failures of the country in the international arena, the Rugby World Cup and the efforts to secure host countries for the European bodies being displaced by Britain's leaving of the European Union. He mentions our lack of facilities in the cyber world. Indeed, as he pointed out our claim to have a robust scientific culture is belied by our position as the only Western European not involved in the great particle physics research project CERN.
Taoiseach was silenced by the Leas Ceann Comhairle in the Dáil.
Still later in the day (and perhaps lost in the political turmoil of other events) an Oireachtas Committee meeting was held which was described by its chair, Catherine Connelly as "surreal!" The dictionary definition of the word is perhaps more graphic, "having the disorienting, hallucinatory quality of a dream; unreal; fantastic:" Later she described it as the most difficult meeting that she has chaired and she has chaired over fifteen of these.
The meeting was to examine the state system and its provision of a bilingual service to the community. The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, which is there "to serve the country, its people and the Government by delivering well-managed and well-targeted public spending, through modernised, effective and accountable public services."
The committee apparently sent a questionnaire to the Department so that they would be prepared for the items that were of interest to the members. This was completed and circulated to the members and normally read out to the meeting. However it transpired that the Department had not sent a delegation competent enough to read this in the National Language and so they read an English translation while the members followed it in Irish. The Chair stated that this was a surreal experience. When asked why they hadn't sent somebody who could address the committee in the language usually used by this particular committee the reply was not only surreal but revealing, "It didn't occur to us!"
Indeed the whole meeting was itself revealing of the State System's attitude to the language. When asked about the linguistic ability of the person in the Department responsible for ensuring that statutory obligations under the Official Languages Act they were told that she was unable to speak the language. That is worth repeating - the person responsible for ensuring that the Department Public Expenditure and Reform fulfills its obligations under the Official Languages Act is unable to speak one of them.
When asked if the had even read The 20 Year Strategy for the Irish Language they hadn't. Further they stated that there was little demand for service from the public in Irish. It was pointed out to them that people in the Gaeltacht had given up speaking to the State Service in Irish as they realised just how half-hearted, if not downright hostile, the reception of such interaction. Not only has "the state lost its allure" but perhaps (as pointed out by Seán Ó Cuirreáin some years ago), perhaps it never had it as far as those people who have managed to preserve out language over the generations.
The Chair remarked that the ability of the delegation to such a committee spoke volumes about the State System's seriousness in matters concerning the National Language.
Is it any wonder that the single word comment, "Joke!" was made by one observer on the Department Representatives' performance?
More alarming was the evidence of any vision or leadership for the language for which the state is supposed to be the champion. Indeed one wonders if secretly they wish that Article 8 of our constitution be repealed!