Gaeilge minister back to school in bid for fluency

By Paddy Clancy

IT WAS the first day of school all over again for newly promoted junior minister Joe McHugh as he began his quest to re-connect with the irish language.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny's shake-up of ministerial roles came in for criticism when it emerged that neither Mr McHugh or Minister Heather Humphreys are fluent Gaelgoirs - despite their new jobs at the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaelteacht.

Mr McHugh (43), wore jeans and an open shirt like most other students when he arrived at Oideas Gael college in Glencolmcille, Co Donegal.

Questions may have been raised about the standard of his Irish over the past week, but he was considered good enough to be put into a high-grade class for his week's studies.

College director Liam O'Cuinneagain, who welcomed him and spoke to him in Gaelic about Donegal's win in the Ulster football final, was impressed enough to put him in level three of a four-level categorisation.

The minister, who has twice before attended the college, admitted he tried to get into a lower-grade class.


"I tried to push myself into level two. But the director wouldn't hear of it, so I am starting at the second-level from the top," he said.

Fifty students, including visitors from Bosnia, Finland, Belgium and America, are in the college this week.

"I understand the criticism on my appointment. There was a fear that I wouldn't be able to do the job if I was solely communicating in Irish.

"I haven't used the language for 20 years since I learned it all from books.

"My parents didn't speak Irish and you have to speak Irish in the home to be fluent at it.

"But I can work bilingually and I have a wonderful translation service in the department," Mr McHugh added.

The minister was already communicating as Gaeilge throughout his entire 90-minute journey to the school.

His driver, Joe Doohan, is from the Donegal Gaeltacht and he also drove his predecessor Minister Dinny McGinley.

"I am going to fail at certain times along the way. I know I won't be fluent in 12 months but I am looking to give it my best shot because my heart is in the right place regarding the Irish language. I want more people speaking it."