Wednesday 17 January 2018

Michael D Higgins questions the effectiveness of making Irish compulsory at school

President Higgins and his wife Sabina in Christchurch New Zealand at the Canterbury Earthquake National Memorial in New Zealand as they meet the widow of Irishman Owen Thomas Mc Kenna Photo: Maxwells
President Higgins and his wife Sabina in Christchurch New Zealand at the Canterbury Earthquake National Memorial in New Zealand as they meet the widow of Irishman Owen Thomas Mc Kenna Photo: Maxwells
Kirsty Blake Knox

Kirsty Blake Knox

President Michael D Higgins has questioned the effectiveness of making our native language Irish a compulsory part of school curriculums.

The subject was raised as the President continued his State Visit of New Zealand where political parties are currently debating if Maori should be made an obligatory subject.

Speaking at the University of Auckland, President Higgins stressed that students should be encouraged to speak ancient languages rather than forced to do so.

The President spoke of the importance of context and referred to Ireland’s colonial history. He also spoke about Douglas Hyde’s essay on the De-Anglicising of Ireland.

Referring to Hyde’s essay he said: “I think myself that it was a mistake and I understand how this essay came to be written but I don't agree with it.”

President Higgins also referred to his other Presidential predecessor, Eamon De Valera who encouraged state servants to change their names to Irish.

“As if that was going to revive the subject,” President Higgins told the crowd.

“I actually wrote... about that which I couldn't publish while I was Minister of Culture.”

Instead, the President advocates a less forceful approach to the teaching of the Irish language.

“I am in favour of encouraging people, bringing people to the language rather than forcing it,” he said.

“You must lure them to the language, make the language attractive.

"The language needn't stand for every antiquated authoritarian idea that was ever dreamed up in ancient Ireland," he said. 

He concluded by saying that Irish “is a language of life and thankfully it is being spoken more and more by young people”.

The topic is of interest to New Zealanders as it was an integral part of discussion in the lead up to the recent election.

The new prime minister Jacinda Ardern’s Labour party campaigned on further integrating the Maori language into primary and intermediate schools. This was met with opposition from right wing party ACT.

The party's leader David Seymour, compared learning the Maori language in schools to Ireland’s experience.

“Look at the Irish they’ve had compulsory Gaelic for 90 years, it’s turned Gaelic into sort of the Brussels sprout of languages in Ireland. People eat it only because they’re forced to and it makes them resent it.”

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