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Labour Minister criticises Taoiseach Enda Kenny over Dail Irish language spat

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has been criticised by one of his own ministers for using the Irish language as a means of not answering questions in the Dail last week.

Labour junior minister Aodhan O’Riordain said today it was wrong for Mr Kenny to refuse to answer a question from Independent TD Mick Wallace in English during Seachtain na Gaeilge.

During the debate last week, Mr Wallace had asked the Taoiseach if he would raise human rights issues with US president Barack Obama when he met him at the White House on Tuesday.

When Mr Kenny began to respond in Irish, Mr Wallace asked him to speak in English. “I apologise I don’t speak Irish,” he said.

The Taoiseach told him to put on earphones and to use the translation system. In English, Mr Kenny barked: “Put on your translation system. Can you hear me? Is it switched on? This is our national language and this is Lá na Gaeilge, nó sin a deirtear liom” (or this is what I’ve been told).

Speaking today, Mr O’Riordain said it was the kind of exchange that puts people off the Irish language. “Yes, it is to be quite frank with you,” he said.

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Aodhan O Riordain

Aodhan O Riordain

Aodhan O Riordain

“The Irish language is very important to me and I use it as often as I can. But to use it to exclude is not what we should do,” he added.

Fianna Fail’s Dara Calleary said it was the kind of the exchange that puts people off politics but said it was an “appallingly arrogant” response from the Taoiseach.

Speaking after the spat, Independent TD Maureen O’Sullivan said Mr Kenny should have “more understanding” for people who do not have his knowledge of the Irish language, the Dáil has heard.

Ms O’Sullivan made the criticism during a debate on the Irish language 20-year strategy.

She was referring to Mr Kenny’s insistence on responding in Irish to Independent TD Mick Wallace during leaders’ questions, despite Mr Wallace asking him to answer in English.  “I don’t agree with what happened to Deputy Wallace,” she said, of Mr Kenny’s response to the Wexford TD.

The Taoiseach’s insistence on Irish occurred during Seachtain na Gaeilge, a celebration of the Irish language that lasts 17 days from March 1st. During Seachtain na Gaeilge and for one day of the Dáil year, Opposition leaders’ questions to the Taoiseach and the Order of Business are taken in Irish.

Last year there was a row when Minister for Jobs Richard Bruton answered questions in English because his Irish was not fluent enough.

During the debate on the strategy, Ms O’Sullivan repeated her call that every primary school in the State should be a Gaelscoil or all-Irish school for its first two or three years to increase the number of Irish speakers.

Fianna Fáil’s Éamon Ó Cuív said, however, that while the Taoiseach spoke Irish, “he has no respect for the Irish language”.

Online Editors