So many quangos, so little Irish
Peter McGuire takes a look at the Irish language strategy over the past 20 years and asks what's been done? Millions of euro flow into a range of Irish-language educational quangos. But with few people having little more than cúpla focal, it’s time to question the strategy
27/2/2012. - NEWS -
In July 2007, the Harris Report indicated that less than one third of pupils from English-medium schools achieved mastery of the Irish language between 1985 and 2002. The report also found the confidence of teachers to speak Irish declined significantly, with almost a quarter indicating their own standard of Irish was “weak”.
In our schools, there are serious questions about how effective Irish-language policies have been, with many school leavers still unable to speak more than a cúpla focal within a few years of the Leaving Cert. Last week, it emerged some gardaí are unable to ask basic questions in Irish, despite having studied it in school and at the Garda College in Templemore.
Is the taxpayer getting value for money? Have the myriad Irish language quangos achieved anything? And what is the future of the language, a slow death or a miraculous revival?
In 2010, the Fianna Fáil -led government published the 20-Year Strategy for the Irish Language. The document was rich in promises and expensive aspiration. Three years later, Foras na Gaeilge, the all-island body for the promotion and development of the Irish language, which also channels public funding to 19 Irish-language organisations, considers publication of the strategy a major result in itself.
Progress on the strategy has been slow. Several key parts have been axed. A planned Irish-language education resource centre in Baile Bhúirne, Co Cork, will not now happen.
An Comhairle um Oideachas Gaeltachta agus Gaelscolaíochta (COGG), which provides Irish-language resources to schools, has been downgraded: the opposite of what was promised in the strategy.
Promised financial support for trainee teachers to attend the Gaeltacht has not materialised and a scholarship scheme for disadvantaged students to attend the Gaeltacht has also evaporated.
There is significant duplication of resources between many publicly-funded Irish language organisations. Cumann na bhFiann, Ógras, and Údarás na Gaeltachta all organise Irish-language youth clubs.
Gaelchultúr, Conradh na Gaeilge and Gael Linn all arrange Irish classes for adults outside the Gaeltacht, while six other organisations operate Gaeltacht-based Irish-language courses. Conradh na Gaeilge and Gaelscoileanna Teo both play a role in establishing Irish-medium schools.
COGG, Gael Linn, and Foras na Gaeilge all produce educational materials for Irish medium schools on the island of Ireland, although COGG produces the vast majority.
In Northern Ireland, An tAoisanaid, which receives the majority of its funding from the State through Foras na Gaeilge, provides these resources for its Irish-language school curricula. A further unit within Foras, Clar na Leabhar Gaeilge, publishes occasional Irish-language books for a general readership.
Duplication of resources
The Irish language sector also has significant and powerful representation, with Conradh na Gaeilge, Comhluadar, Comhar na Múinteoirí Gaeilge, and Gaelscoileanna Teo, all of which are publicly funded, among the organisations with have a lobbying and advocacy role.
In the face of opposition from many of the public bodies funded through Foras, amalgamations of these quangos have been slow.
While much public money has been invested in Irish-language educational initiatives at all levels, in contrast, modern European languages were completely axed from the primary-school curriculum in 2011.
There is no corresponding level of public investment in European languages that comes remotely close to that spent on Irish. There have always been serious questions about the effectiveness of Irish-language policies in education. The 1966 Fianna Fáil government, led by Seán Lemass, made a series of pledges to support the language and increase bilingualism. A three-year action plan for the Irish language was published in 1983 during a Fine Gael/Labour government.