Irish language ‘being driven to margins of society’

Fine Gael and Labour condemned for not attending Oireachtas language committee

Outgoing Language Commissioner Seán Ó Cuirreáin.

Outgoing Language Commissioner Seán Ó Cuirreáin.

Thu, Jan 23, 2014, 16:19

Irish language Commissioner Seán Ó Cuirreáin has said the Irish language is being continuously driven out to the margins of Irish society in a process accelerated by the inaction of Government, the civil service and the public sector.

Mr Ó Cuirreáin announced late last year that he would be stepping down from his position as Coimisinéir Teanga in February because of Government and public service inaction in preserving and promoting the language.

The commissioner used his last appearance yesterday before the Oireachtas sub-committee on the 20 Year Strategy for the Irish language to make a comprehensive and wide-ranging condemnation of the State and Government’s dispensations towards the language.

No TD or Senator from either of the Government parties, Fine Gael or Labour, attended the meeting attended only by parliamentarians from Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin, as well as independent Senator Ronán Mullen.

Sinn Féin senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh said the absence of even a single member of a Coalition party was telling of Government indifference to the plight of the language.

In his presentation, Mr Ó Cuirreáin was highly critical of the Government’s record on the Irish language.

“The neglect in promoting the language scheme element of the Act has resulted in severe restrictions on the progress which might have been made. I believe there is no possibility that the new system being introduced to increase the number of civil servants fluent in Irish will succeed.”

The commissioner has calculated that the scheme would take some 28 years to increase the number of fluent speakers in a core Government department for Irish to just 3 per cent from its very low present rate of 1. 5 per cent.

In relation to the strategy he said nobody, including himself, knew if it was being implemented. This was because no independent audit or review was being conducted, and its progress was measured by self-assessment.

“From the experience of my office in auditing the language schemes of State bodies, little value or importance can be attached in reality to self-assessment,” he said.

He gave as an example a claim by the Revenue Commissioners that a third of all their press releases were being issued in two languages. But when his office checked, it emerged that they were being issued only in one language. And then, once a year, it was getting four months’ worth of press releases translated in one go (long after their period of usefulness or topicality had expired) in order to cut down on translation.

He cited two prominent language academics from NUI Galway. The first, Seosamh Mac Donnacha, has described the strategy as a “dead document” and said the sub-section of the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht that dealt with the Irish language was at the bottom of the power chain in its own department, which itself was at the bottom of the power chain in Government.

The second, Dr John Walsh, said the 20-year strategy was “now like a corpse, and the Irish language is more marginalised than ever in the civil service”.

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