‘Serious challenges facing the Irish language in the Gaeltacht’ – Joe McHugh

‘Decisive action’ needed – Conradh na Gaeilge

Joe McHugh TD. grianghraf: dara mac dónaill/the irish times

Joe McHugh TD. grianghraf: dara mac dónaill/the irish times

 

An academic study, published today, has argued that the Irish language will cease to be a community language in the Gaeltacht in less than 10 years. The authors, Mr Conchúr Ó Giollagáin and Mr Martin Charlton, say that the erosion of Irish is happening quicker than previous research had suggested. As a consequence, the vitality of Irish as a social medium was in danger of being swamped. The authors argue that, in the light of their findings, the language’s natural Gaeltacht “habitat” is in danger and that the State will find it hard to help Irish when there is no longer a native-speaking community.

Responding to the report, the Minister of State for Gaeltacht Affairs, Mr Joe McHugh TD, said that, while acknowledging that there were “serious challenges facing the Irish language in the Gaeltacht, it is important to recognise the practical steps that are being taken by the State to improve matters”.

These included draft policy proposals for educational provision in Gaeltacht areas and it was also important to note that the Irish language had been given “significant constitutional and legislative protection by the State ”.

It was the Government’s policy to support parents raising their children through Irish in the Gaeltacht and he was “very aware of the dynamics of language change and the pressure minority languages face as a result of the ever-increasing dominance of English”.

The study, Update Report to the Comprehensive Linguistic Study on the Usage of Irish in the Gaeltacht: 2006-2011, was commissioned by Údarás na Gaeltachta and undertakes a detailed look at the changing use of Irish in that region.

The chairwoman of Údarás na Gaeltachta (ÚnaG), Ms Anna Ní Ghallachair, said that they recognised “the data provided in this report provides an insight into the significant challenges posed to the Gaeltacht communities and to the State alike in relation to the preservation of the Irish language. The report details how the Irish language has contracted as a community language in the Gaeltacht, especially in the strongest Gaeltacht areas”.

She said that the research would be studied “carefully” and that “an effort must be made to understand the factors which hold sway and influence communities’ linguistic behavior”. Údarás na Gaeltachta would provide support in that regard.

Chief Executive of ÚnaG, Mr Steve Ó Cúláin, said that the research statistics showed that there had been no increase in the number of active Irish speakers in the Gaeltacht. However, there were “still many people in the Gaeltacht whose first and everyday language is Irish. Language planning is a complex process, and will only be successful with the community, the public sector and the private sector, all working together to support the promotion and usage of the Irish language in the Gaeltacht”.

General Secretary of Conradh na Gaeilge, Mr Julian de Spáinn, said that the report showed that “the State must not only demonstrate to the Gaeltacht community that it fully supports the continuing existence of a strong sustainable Gaeltacht, but that it will make it a priority to secure this”.

To that end, he argued that there was a need for a “proper” Gaeltacht education policy, “adequate” funding for ÚnaG and support for Gaeltacht communities to help them use the language.

He believed that the Gaeltacht would only survive if “decisive action is taken by the State in cooperation with the community”.

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