Wednesday 22 November 2017

Why forcing Irish on all makes most of us gag

The truth is that more people hate our first official language than love it, or can speak it, writes Emer O'Kelly

MOST people are fairly impressed with the way our new Taoiseach is getting off the mark on tackling various pre-election issues. But at least one of his policy proposals has already been spectacularly abandoned. That's the promise to remove the compulsion to take Irish as a Leaving Certificate subject.

In one way it's easy to see why Mr Kenny dropped the idea like a hot potato: the squawks, yells, huffs and puffs were deafening. . . all delivered in English, of course, as is the wont of the language police when they're saying something they want understood; no sense protesting in our sacred native tongue, since the majority of people would neither hear nor understand. Their yelling was so deafening that Fine Gael probably thought the issue could lose them the election. So they listened to the travellers on the Irish language gravy train rather than to the population at large: and dropped the policy.

An Coimisineir Teanga, Sean O Curreain, whose office was set up to implement the provisions of the Official Languages Act, issued his annual report last week. It contained records of 700-odd complaints from people who found themselves unable to conduct their business through Irish with State departments. The Coimisineir was particularly pained because according to the last Census of Population, he points out, there are 72,000 people in Ireland who use Irish "on a daily basis". I find that a fascinating statistic. Because another statistic from the report shows that only 1.5 per cent of the administrative staff of the Department of Education could provide a service in Irish. When you put those two statistics together, it would seem that the department has been singularly unlucky in being unable to find employees with a working knowledge of the language. Or could it be that the 72,000 people who use it "daily" are a figment of somebody's imagination? Maybe even their own? After all, as Mr O Curreain himself points out, young adults are leaving school after having completed 1,500 hours of language tuition over a 13-year period . . . and they still can't speak or write Irish.

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