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Thursday 21 August 2014

'Dearg le fearg' at Minister for Gaeltacht gan Gaeilge

Protest to be held outside the Department of the Taoiseach at 1.15pm today

Clare Cullen

Published 16/07/2014 | 11:29

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This government have made some idiotic decisions since being elected but this one takes the cáca.

Enda Kenny has made the decision of appoint a 'Minister of State at the Department of Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht Affairs' "with a special responsibility’ for Gaeltacht matters" that openly admits his "conversational Irish certainly wouldn’t be great".

I am by no means an Irish snob - I don't think you have to be 'fluent' to love the language. God loves a trier, as they say, and my knowledge of An Modh Coinníollach could certainly be improved. However, I would be able to respond in Irish to a question asked in Irish.

Philip Ryan reported today that "Under questioning from Irish speaking politicians, Mr McHugh said he understood their questions but did not have the confidence to reply in Irish" and both ministers "struggled with the native language during their first Dail debate".

To draw a parallel, this would be like me being appointed, in France, as a Minister for the preservation of French, with only school French. French that I haven't spoken since I left school seven years ago and would then be expected to write, read and pass legislation in. Not only that, but the senior Minister in the Arts department, Heath Humphreys, has little or no Irish.

Sinn Fein’s Peadar Toibin pointed out that "for the first time Irish language documents would have to be translated into English" for the ministers and the department's first language would now be English.

People (used to) ask me if I was proud to see a Mayo man as Taoiseach. The answer is that I'm embarrassed.

Enda Kenny has continually embarrassed me, as a proud Mayo woman, with the idiotic (in my opinion) decisions he's made during this and previous terms of Government, but to appoint a junior Minister for the Gaeltacht who openly admits he can't speak it is beyond embarrassing. It's amaideach.

Fianna Fáil TD Éamon Ó Cuív released a statement saying that "fluent Irish should be an absolute prerequisite for a Minister with responsibility for the language; without it they cannot adequately carry out their duties in Gaeltacht Affairs". He should know - he was in charge of Gaeltacht Affairs from 1997 to 2010.

Conradh na Gaeilge Secretary General, Julian De Spáinn, said the Taoiseach "effectively reduced the status of the language" by not providing a Minister of State unable to "communicate with Irish speakers in their own language".

The Journal.ie reported that when challenged in the Dáil, Kenny claimed that Joe McHugh would take a "refreshers course" in Irish and RTE reported that he booked a course through Oideas Gael in Glencolmcoille. The whole thing reads like an unaired Father Ted episode!

Let's not forget one of the responsibilities of the Minister of State at the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Affairs is to appoint the 12 board members of Údarás na Gaeltachta. Údarás na Gaeltachta, for those who don't know, is the "regional development authority funded by the Government to promote the linguistic, cultural, social, physical and economic development of the Gaeltacht with the overall objective of maintaining Irish as the main communal language of the region." So it's pretty pivotal and not just for the language, but for people's livelihoods - As of the end of 2013 there were 6,969 people employed in Údarás-assisted companies.

Enda Kenny's record with the Irish language is very poor - or, at least, a cruel indifference. Remember when he proposed to remove Irish from the Leaving Cert as a compulsory subject? Teenagers could just decide their national language was 'too hard' and replace it with something easier... maybe CSPE, useful and all as that has proved. Imagine if students were given the option to give up maths because they felt it was 'too hard'? There would be national uproar!

Kenny has stopped even paying lip-service to the upkeep of the language with this appointment, deliberately ignoring the needs or wishes of  100,716 people (census 2011). That number is only those living in Gaeltacht areas - there are many more Irish speakers living in non-designated Gaeltacht areas. Many of those who don't even count Irish as a language they are fluent in still don't want to see the language die - but the criminal indifference of the country's leader to the upkeep, promotion and encouragement of the language will certainly see it faster to it's grave.

The worst thing is that he knows he can get away with it. There will be a small amount of uproar from a niche group and he will just close his curtains while they protest outside - the same way the government did when the students protested. There isn't enough people that really, really care to get a national response, and he's taking full advantage of that. Even those that do care may feel that they shouldn't protest unless they're fluent, which is not the case. Ireland needs to show the government that we care about our national language and  support those that have taken it upon themselves to preserve it for the next generation.

Irish speakers are already fighting an uphill battle to keep the language alive. Pennies are spent on the provision of Irish language services (none of which are up to standard), the Gaeltacht areas are underfunded, undervalued and under-resourced. People complain about the 'Gaeltacht grant' which in reality amounts to less than €200 per person, per year, to live in an area otherwise forgotten by the State. The national broadcaster has next to no Irish language programming and TG4 is half the station it should be, fighting against major television powerhouses who rerun MTV shows and YouTube clips to ensnare the audience.

Not only is it difficult but there have been cases of the language being illegal in parts of the country. The Belfast telegraph reported that in March this year, the national treasurer of Sinn Féin Poblachtach Diarmuid Mac Dubhghlais was arrested and charged "under anti-terrorism legislation" by the PSNI for giving "his name and address in Irish when he was stopped by police". Legally, in the Republic, you have the right to speak to a guard as Gaeilge but I would not feel confident that it would not be seen as being 'difficult'.

Even if you don't care about Irish, you should respect the right of Irish citizens to their national language. The least you could do is appoint someone to the role that can understand it. Paypal wouldn't hire people without German for their German collections department but the Irish Taoiseach appoints someone without Irish as a junior minister for Gaeltacht Affairs. Republic of Telly couldn't even parody it, it's already so ridiculous.

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