News Opinion

Friday 19 September 2014

The public should be entitled to free Irish lessons - not the State

Published 18/08/2014 | 16:04

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Heather Humphreys
Heather Humphreys

Let me begin by saying I think it's absolutely fantastic that six TDs have shown the initiative to sign up to Irish language classes through the Oireachtas to "brush up on their skills".

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Complaints have been made in the past about the abysmal standard of our national tongue in our national parliament and I, for one, am ecstatic to see that some of our national representatives are making the effort to get up to standard.

I, unlike a lot of people online, don't even mind that it's 'taxpayer funded'. There are a lot of worse things, in my opinion, that my tax money goes to paying - including politicians salaries. At least this time, it's going to something I really care about.

Not only has it been reported that new Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht Minister Heather Humphreys has "yet to begin her Irish lessons" as she has been "very busy with work", it has not been reported whether or not the Minister for the Gaeltacht (who once famously said "my conversational Irish isn't great") has signed up for the classes - but again, that's an article for another day.

My question is - if politicans, who earn up to and more than four or five times what the rest of us earn, can get free Irish lessons - why can't we?

Conradh na Gaeilge is an important institution in Ireland. Why isn't more funding allocated to it so they can offer free Irish classes for anyone who wants to "brush up" on their conversational Irish?

Ten week refresher courses start at €180 for Búnrang - the course designed to bring your Leaving Cert Irish flooding back. Those who then want to improve upon their existing Irish can fork out another €180 for Meánrang and another €180 for Árdrang (plus twenty weeks of their lives).

Now, for all but the most dedicated these prices can prove a turn-off. Improving your Irish comes way down the list in terms of priorities, after water tax, house tax and soon the proposed/threatened universal health care charge.

So shouldn't the government, who claim to be committed to the language, free up some funding to allow Conradh na Gaeilge and the Oireachtas to provide free Irish language lessons for the public? More literacy and fluency in Irish can only serve to help the country - widening the audience for media outlets like TG4 and RnaG and levelling the playing field in terms of Irish people who can speak Irish. No longer would we have to hear the same tired argument that Irish is exclusionary - 'only for those who were born with it or can afford it'.

Over 6,000 people are employed in Údaras-assisted Irish language roles in the State. A widening base of talent available for these jobs would only serve to boost the sector, create some competition and possibly result in overall growth of the sector.

The major complaint is that Irish is not taught well in schools - so take the sole focus off the schools. Provide free Irish language lessons around the country to anyone willing to learn. Open up the language to new areas, new people, new socio-economic groups. Create employment schemes and scouting programs around the programs and offer Irish language internships to the most enthusiastic learners or to anyone looking for a career change and willing to put the work in.

More than €16,000 has reportedly been spent on the Oireachtas language scheme since the start of last year, which currently has six TDs signed up. That figure could cover 88 members of the public.

As an example, the Dáil bar ran an almost 7k bar tap the night of the late night abortion debate and over €1,400 the night of 'Lapgate' - two figures which, combined, could cover another 46 people.  Profits for the bar in 2012 were €145,623 - which would cover another 809 people.

European candidates for election can spend up to €230,000 on literature and posters for their campaign, which is often funded by their political party. As an example, that figure would enable 1,277 people to "brush up" on their skills.

I think it's time to put the PR exercises to bed and the Irish government - and "gaelgóir" Enda Kenny - to put their money where their béal is.

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