Making sense of the census
Pól Ó Muirí
The census figures for 2011 are giving Irish-language groups much to ponder in today’s Tuarascáil. The headlines are that there was a 7.1 per cent increase in the number of people who said they could speak Irish from 2006, giving a total of 1.77 million people in the Republic who indicated they speak Irish. Of those, 77,185 people speak the language daily outside the education system; 110,642 say they speak it weekly, while 613,236 said they spoke it less often. One out of every four say they never speak the language.
Language Commissioner, Seán Ó Cuirreáin, notes that the graph is going in the right direction but that nothing should be taken for granted; the upward trend will not continue without proper support. Acting director of Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge, Kevin de Barra, also notes that turning those 77,000 daily speakers into 250,000 – as hoped for in the 20-year strategy – is a big challenge.
Guth na Gaeltachta spokesman, Éamonn Mac Niallais, wants to see what measures the Government offers in the Gaeltacht Bill and the new family support scheme to help out the language but is happy that Irish still has such a strong standing despite much negative coverage in English-language media. (Maybe that will change? After all, 1.77 million people is a pretty big market and one which, you would think, English-language media might want to court in these days of falling newspaper sales and free online content.)
Other speakers in today’s Tuarascáil also highlight the need to provide extra support for young students learning the language in the Gaeltacht and outside it. Muireann Ní Mhóráin of COGG, an organisation for Irish-language and Gaeltacht education, worries that the teaching of Irish is not working while Gael-Linn head honcho, Antoine Ó Coileáin, wonders if the stats will be properly incorporated into any future language planning. Also mentioned are concerns over the official Gaeltacht boundaries not accurately reflecting the real usage of Irish in heartland Gaeltacht areas.
All in all, much to chew over. On the whole, there are obviously many people who still retain an active interest in the language – even if they do not always get the chance to use it.