Friday 30 September 2016

Minister at the centre of the Gaeltacht controversy now has more than just a cúpla focal

Greg Harkin

Published 18/08/2016 | 12:46

The Fine Gael minister has defied critics by not only becoming almost fluent in the past two years, he has also vowed to continue to learn the language.
The Fine Gael minister has defied critics by not only becoming almost fluent in the past two years, he has also vowed to continue to learn the language.

A Government minister at the centre of controversy when he was given the portfolio for the Gaeltacht has been moved into the top class at his Irish language summer school.

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Donegal TD Joe McHugh was given a new junior role in the minority Government as Minister for the Diaspora.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny faced criticism after the Gaeltacht appointment because McHugh knew very little Irish.

However the Fine Gael minister has defied critics by not only becoming almost fluent in the past two years, he has also vowed to continue to learn the language.

McHugh has become so good at Irish when he returned to Oideas Gael in Glencolmcille yesterday he was upgraded to the Ard Rang, the highest class.

“I didn’t know it at the time but An Taoiseach gave me an enormous gift, a newfound love of our native language,” said McHugh.

“I have enjoyed every minute of learning the language. I can’t say it was easy and there was a lot of work involved but now I look back and I’m so grateful.

“Some of the more cynical people out there might have thought I would quit the language once I was re-appointed but there was no way that was going to happen.

“In fact as Diaspora Minister I want to use our embassies and missions around the world to promote Irish abroad and encourage cultural tourism, bringing people from abroad to our gaeltacht areas to learn our language.”

More than a dozen nationalities are among the 90 people in the south west Donegal gaeltacht this week, including visitors from Japan, Luxembourg, Australia, France, Wales and Germany.

Course director Siobhan Curran said: “Joe has done extremely well and should be an inspiration to anyone who wants to discover the Irish language.

“It’s hard for anyone to learn Irish but he had to do it in the face of criticism and under the political microscope which wasn’t easy but for me he has proven all the critics wrong.”

McHugh said the focus for the language has to be conversation.

“There is a revival under way and I have concentrated very much on spoken Irish. Now I’ve moved on to tackle grammar and so far, so good.”

And he said he won’t stop there.

“I’d love to be able to teach Irish one day, even in a local class. I’d love to give it back to others,” he added.

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