There is no denying the clear threats to future of Irish
Published 21/10/2015 | 02:30
As one of the authors of the two studies referred to in Rónán Mac Con Iomaire's opinion piece ('Irish and the Gaeltacht - they haven't gone away, you know', Irish Independent, October 1), I wish to address some of the issues raised.
The dismissal of the implications of these studies by RTé's Group Head of Irish Language is unjustified.
Mr Mac Con Iomaire declines to extend the courtesy to the authors, and indeed to the public, to name the studies - 'Update of the Comprehensive Linguistic Study of the Use of Irish in the Gaeltacht: 2006-2011' and 'Analysis of Bilingual Competence: Language Acquisition Among Young People in the Gaeltacht' - so as to clarify what he is actually talking about and to afford the public the opportunity to read the reports and see if his arguments are valid.
These scientific studies depict the current vulnerable condition of Irish-speaking communities in the Gaeltacht. The first was based on an analysis of current demographic data and the second is a comparative linguistic study of spoken ability in both Irish and English among young native speakers of Irish in the Gaeltacht.
Mr Mac Con Iomaire seems to dismiss the implications of these studies relating to the survival of the Gaeltacht on two irrelevant grounds: a) that he is part of an Irish language network in An Cheathrú Rua and b) that RTÉ has a new Irish-language policy.
The grounding of his contentions in RTÉ's corporate policy is highly questionable as institutional practice, giving the impression that his arguments are RTÉ's corporate policy and that RTÉ is also dismissing this scientific work because one of the organisation's executives is not favourably disposed towards it.
He is ill-informed in decrying a sample size of 50 young native speakers of Irish, while suggesting an even smaller sample as his own evidence, ie, himself.
In fact, a sample of 50 seven to 12-year-olds is actually an extremely strong sample of the relevant age cohort in catchment areas of the linguistic study.
Mr Mac Con Iomaire (and by association RTÉ) fails to produce any credible evidence or analysis to support his dismissive contentions and yet he feels adequately equipped to discard painstaking scientific research because he doesn't agree with the conclusions.
His attitude is akin to having authority for building programming policy on environmental issues, while rejecting the scientific evidence indicating global warming.
Shooting the messenger is not going to change the challenging conditions faced by Irish-speaking communities, as depicted in these studies. More seriously, the refusal to engage adequately with research findings relevant to consumers of Irish broadcasting indicates an unrealistic overview of the communities surveyed in these reports.
The authors of these reports are not immune from constructive criticism, but surely the onus on somebody wishing to set aside troubling research findings is to produce a counter analysis and to back up that analysis with something more credible?
The scientific method is concerned with demonstrating evidence of salient practice, trajectories and underlying processes.
Corporate authority does not imply an entitlement to reject research simply because you disagree with the results.
Encouraging people to disregard scientific surveys on the basis that they do not concur with your own world view is not a serious argument.
The refusal to engage with the evidence, which suggests that the Gaeltacht is in crisis and is in an advanced stage of social collapse, deserves to be taken seriously.
Those in positions of influence will not be treated kindly by history if the trajectory towards the dominance of English in the Gaeltacht - and the extirpation of Irish as a social and cultural entity - is allowed to continue unabated, despite official protestations.
Conchúr Ó Giollagáin is the Soillse Research Professor in the University of the Highlands and Islands, Scotland. He co-authored, along with Martin Charlton, the 'Update of the Comprehensive Linguistic Study of the Use of Irish in the Gaeltacht: 2006-2011'. 'The Analysis of Bilingual Competence: Language Acquisition Among Young People in the Gaeltacht', was co-authored by him along with Tamás Péterváry, Brian Ó Curnáin and Jerome Sheahan