Kenny rejects fears over Ministers’ ability with Irish

Minister of State with Responsibility for Gaeltacht Affairs to take refresher course

 Members of the Irish language and Gaeltacht community protest outside  Government Buildings yesterday after the announcement Joe McHugh TD is to be the new junior minister for the Gaeltacht. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

Members of the Irish language and Gaeltacht community protest outside Government Buildings yesterday after the announcement Joe McHugh TD is to be the new junior minister for the Gaeltacht. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

Thu, Jul 17, 2014, 01:00

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has rejected a call to reconsider his appointment of two Ministers with responsibility for the Gaeltacht who are not fluent in Irish.

Mr Kenny said in Irish that when the Dáil resumes after the summer Minister of State Joe McHugh, who has direct responsibility for Gaeltacht Affairs, will be fluent in the language. The Minister is to undertake a refresher course in Irish in Glencolmcille, Co Donegal.

But Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams said the appointment of two Ministers who did not have functioning Irish was a “backward step”.

He believed Mr McHugh and Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Heather Humphreys were very capable representatives. But he said the appointments “provide further evidence of the downgrading of the Irish language and the Gaeltacht that has been the mark of this Government”.

Earlier Sinn Féin spokesman on the Gaeltacht Peadar Tóibín made a blistering attack on the Government’s attitude to the language and described it as “incredible” that neither of the two had Irish when they had responsibility for the language.

“The working language of the department now becomes English because at the top of the department the Ministers themselves can’t understand it,” the Meath West TD said.

Instead of rows about translating documents into Irish, documents in Irish would have to be translated into English so the Ministers could understand them, he said.

He said there were 800 children in the Gaeltacht who were native Irish speakers and he told the Minister: “You are saying to the children ‘learn Irish, speak Irish yourselves, speak Irish amongst your families, but don’t speak Irish to us cos we don’t have it’.”

Widespread use

Mr McHugh told him that “one person is not going to save the language” but the Ministers had a commitment to the language and to making it more widespread.

Mr Tóibín said, however, that while he did not doubt Mr McHugh’s commitment to learn the language, the “ministry of the Gaeltacht is not an Irish language course”.

Mr McHugh said, “I’m prepared to put in the work, like any job. I’ve already stated that I have to do a refresher course and I think this is about ensuring that the job is done correctly and I’m certainly going to do the best of my ability.”

Mr McHugh said the question was about bringing the language into the home and getting parents speaking Irish.

He added that there was a challenge in thinking the language. “I’m asking people to follow me in my journey, where we can reach out to people who got Cs and Bs and As in their Leaving Cert and don’t speak it but want to speak it and have a love and a grá for the Irish.”

Fianna Fáil arts spokesman Seán Ó Fearghaíl pointed to the protest by 10,000 people in Dublin in February about the status of the language and what they saw as the Government’s lack of commitment.

“I would take it we have two new brooms in the department. I don’t question your commitment but you’ll be judged at the end of the day by what you do.”

Ms Humphreys said they were committed to the 20-year strategy on the language. She added: “The big thing is the confidence because a lot of us know it but we don’t have the confidence to stand up and speak it.

“I just want to reassure you that I’m totally committed to the protection and the proper advancement of the Irish language and that it will be used much more in normal, everyday living.”