A message from the previous President of Ireland
(Sorry, I couldn't resist the title).
Mary McAleese, the previous President of Ireland has an opinion piece in today's Irish Times about the role of the Irish Language in her life.
A strategy for the Irish language http://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/letters/a-strategy-for-the-irish-language-1.2482449
Sir, – Thank you for publishing the inspirational article on the Irish language by Mary McAleese (“Speaking Irish enriched my sense of identity”, Opinion & Analysis, December 21st). Mrs McAleese writes of the joy the language has brought her and how it has provided “a sense of a circle completed, a wound healed”. These sentiments, echoing those of Seamus Heaney, will be understood by many Irish speakers around the country.
The article was timely in that December marked the fifth anniversary of the launch of the 20-year strategy for the Irish language from 2010 to 2030. This strategy, agreed by all political parties, has as a key objective the increasing of the number of daily speakers of Irish from 83,000 to 250,000. The strategy outlines nine “areas for action” to achieve this objective and adopted a 20-year time horizon so that it could address surface and underlying issues. Unfortunately, a quarter of the way through the 20 years, progress in implementing this strategy lies somewhere between poor and abject. In relation to education, it remains the case that most new primary school teachers do not even have a decent grasp of the language themselves, a basic prerequisite in passing the language on to the children they teach. Clearly a significant overhaul of teacher training is required in this regard but the only action of the current Government has actually been to reduce funding for trainee teachers to attend Gaeltacht areas as part of their formation.
In all parts of the country, demand from parents for education through the medium of the Irish language for their children far outstrips places available. The response of the Department of Education to this demand, particularly at second level, remains extremely slow, overly cautious and reactive.
In relation to Gaeltacht communities, several reports have set out clearly how the Irish language is declining as a community language in the small number of parishes where it has not already died out. In addressing severe threats to the physical environment, the Government has no hesitation in designating “special areas of conservation”. But no such creativity seems to exist in relation to Gaeltacht communities. Post offices, Garda stations, transport services, medical services and small schools have been shut and people forced to use English-language services. The budget of Údarás na Gaeltachta to create local employment is woefully inadequate. The Government’s one initiative in relation to Gaeltacht areas has been to start a process of “language planning”. Incredibly, after five years, not even one such plan has been developed, never mind implemented.
Policies outside Gaeltacht areas have also lacked urgency and imagination. For example, many young people leave school each year with reasonably good Irish-language skills. Given the agreed national objective that at least 250,000 people speak Irish daily, clearly these people need a range of spaces in which use of the language is facilitated and nurtured. Yet such spaces simply don’t exist. In Dublin, for example, it is possible to have lunch daily beside Government Buildings in French in the Alliance Française, which also organises many excellent French language events, yet there is nowhere one can have lunch “trí Ghaeilge”.
Surely it would be possible to organise a network of Irish-language centres around the country. And has anybody asked Nama if it could build in some mini-Gaeltacht areas as part of its plan to build 20,000 new homes?
As we move into the second five-year period of the 20-year strategy, is it too much to hope that the forthcoming election manifestos might set out creative and concrete proposals to promote the Irish language, and that they might be speedily implemented by the incoming government? This would surely provide a better legacy to commemorate the centenary of 1916 than any amount of speeches by politicians outside the GPO. – Yours, etc,
FINBAR McDONNELL, Dublin 4.
It is ironic that at a time when tools like Duolingo are making Irish fun again for (some indeterminate number of) adults who don't remember much of whatever Irish they learned a long time ago, and the infrastructure is there to support on-demand learning, government support for the language seems to be so threadbare. And bad and all as the situation is in the educational system, the writer is entirely correct about the dearth of opportunities for adult speakers of the language to engage with the language in the ordinary run of things . You can't force private businesses to provide services in Irish, so I don't know how Irish can really make inroads in this area, unless people are more willing to ask for service in Irish.
I think there has to be a stricter and higher standard for young children learning Irish. Most kids in Ireland never used the language and then suddenly come their leaving cert they're expected to be fluent speakers. I think between the ages of 6-10 it should be required to be very proficient in the language instead of just learning 3 verbs and some vocab. very young children can learn a language much easier than an adult. Also think Irish should be more rewarded for example I think you should get an extra 25 points for Higher level in the leaving cert like you do for maths.