Wednesday 16 October 2019

Want to save Irish? Stop forcing it onto school children

Learning Irish should be seen as an enjoyable and enriching hobby, not a tiresome chore, which is why it would surely make sense to drop compulsory classes from the curriculum.
Learning Irish should be seen as an enjoyable and enriching hobby, not a tiresome chore, which is why it would surely make sense to drop compulsory classes from the curriculum.
Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

This is the time of the year when politicians like to release those messy, awkward and potentially embarrassing bits of information which they really, really hope the rest of us will either ignore or miss.

On an entirely unrelated note, it was interesting to see that the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht issued a report this week which, quelle surprise, called for more money to be flushed down the endless toilet that is the Irish language industry. The cause for concern is the fact that, apparently, only 2pc of Irish civil servants can speak Irish "to the required level".

So, with dreary inevitability, we were told that we need an "even more radical and systematic overhaul to ensure the State could deliver on Irish citizens' rights".

The language commissioner, Ronan O Domhnaill, also thinks that there is a need for: "A more proactive and strategic approach to the recruitment of Irish language-competent staff."

In other words - give us more money.

Of course, that particular department, which is surely the most utterly pointless and unnecessary of all the departments, recently walked into a world of embarrassment when it emerged that even they were using Google Translate on their 1916 website, which is exactly the sort of leading-from-behind we now expect from these people.

The apparent crisis caused by the lack of fluent Irish speakers in the civil service is a result of the farcical 2001 Supreme Court decision which decreed that anyone who wanted to conduct official business as Gaeilge should be facilitated. That, in itself, is a classic example of Irish illogic. Sure, people might like to think that we are a bilingual country and the aspirational notion of everyone being able to switch effortlessly from English to Irish and back again is something which appeals to some, if not necessarily all, of the population. The problem is that all of the population, regardless of their opinion on the matter, will now be expected to fund more expensive language training courses for civil servants, simply to cater for cranks who could, but won't, speak English.

The exact figures for Government spending on Irish are as mysterious as those dreaded Irish noun declensions we had to learn in school, but most sources accept that it is somewhere in the figure of a billion euro a year. A billion euro, there or thereabouts, to keep a dying language on artificial life support is not just intellectually counter-intuitive, it's morally bankrupt.

It was interesting to note that the same day this report came out, there was another Government press release trumpeting the fact that we spent €600m on foreign aid in 2014. Combine the two and that's roughly €1.5bn of our money that this Government just splashed against the wall for absolutely no benefit.

Of course, the Irish language lobby, like those who work in the lucrative aid industry, claim that anyone who opposes such profligacy is a heartless wretch who only thinks in terms of money. Well, it's the economy, stupid. Therefore, value for money is exactly what we expect.

The irony is that Irish would actually prosper if the State simply stayed out of it and allowed people to find their own love for the language. Instead, it's shoved down their throats for 13 years, which has only succeeded in producing several generations of Irish people who genuinely despise the sound of their native tongue.

If the Gaeilgeoir grenadiers were truly interested in promoting the language, rather than simply ring fencing their sense of entitlement, they would admit that compulsory learning has never worked and will never work. So why do they still insist on alienating tens of thousands of potential new speakers?

Learning Irish should be seen as an enjoyable and enriching hobby, not a tiresome chore, which is why it would surely make sense to drop compulsory classes from the curriculum.

In its place, we should replace the five Irish classes a week with a combination of Civics and Home Economics. That way, we might at least produce people who know what it means to be a good citizen and can actually feed themselves - two qualities which are in short supply at the moment.

Of course, dropping the daily dirge in favour of imparting skills that are of actual, important use in the real world is heresy to the crypt keepers because they have no interest in the real world.

No, theirs is a world of piety and aspiration and the warm, waffling soporific of patriotic fervour which seems to think speaking this bloody language is a true sign of Irishness - refusing to recognise that, by their own criteria, there are very, very few truly Irish people left.

We have a national disease of looking at things they way we would like them to be, rather than how they actually are, which, ironically, means those who want to keep Irish compulsory are doing far more damage to the language than any critic ever could.

More people have developed an interest in Irish as a result of TG4 - the most innovative TV station in this country - than they ever did from their time at school.

After all, TG4 manages to present the language as a living, breathing, vibrant and sexy beast.

Oh well, I guess that mythical billion quid still has to be spent somewhere, though...

Irish Independent

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