State’s Irish language strategy is ‘dead horse’, says Senator

Strategy is a ‘failure’ and should be abandoned for new plan focusing on job creation

Senator Pádraig Ó Ceidigh: dismissed the 20-year Irish language  as a failure. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Senator Pádraig Ó Ceidigh: dismissed the 20-year Irish language as a failure. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

The Government’s Irish language strategy is a “dead horse” which should be abandoned in favour of a new plan that focused on job creation, the Seanad has heard.

Independent Senator Pádraig Ó Ceidigh dismissed the 20-year strategy which runs until 2030 as a failure and said that seven years in, there had been a reversal in both the number of native Irish speakers and the number of people who can converse in the language.

But Minister of State Joe McHugh said increased general funding of €6.39 million for language programmes and an additional €1.25 million in specific funding for well advanced language plans in Gaeltacht areas would show progress shortly.

He said much work had been done on the strategy and he was confident that the various language programmes in Gaeltacht and other areas would bear fruit shortly.

Bilingual

The strategy’s aim is to ensure as many Irish citizens as possible are bilingual by increasing incrementally to two million the number of people with a knowledge of Irish and the number of daily speakers of the language – outside the education system – from 83,000 to 250,000.

Mr Ó Ceidigh said, however, that last year’s census had shown the opposite had happened. The number of daily speakers of Irish had fallen from 83,000 in 2010 to 73,800.

He said the plan was to increase the number of people speaking Irish in Gaeltacht areas by 25 per cent but in 2010 there were more than 20,000 native speakers, which rose to 23,000 in 2011. This had now dropped to 20,000 in 2016.

Quoting actor John Wayne, Mr Ó Ceidigh said “when you are on a dead horse, the best thing to do is to get off”. The strategy was failing and “we have to start again”.

The Taoiseach’s nominee said he believed that “the more European or global we get, the more we need to support and protect our own identity as a people”.

Mr Ó Ceidigh said a new strategy had to be put in place based on the local community to allow them to live in the paces they were born and where they speak Irish rather than having to move to places such as Boston.

Investment in Údarás Na Gaeltachta had dropped by 70 per cent since 2007 and Foras na Gaeilge had lost more than 40 per cent of its budget.

The strategy has to be based on employment and co-operation between all the Government departments. He said initiatives like the Wild Atlantic Way were a great success and a lot more like this could be done.

Local economy

He said Irish language colleges were doing well and had contributed €20 million to the local economy. “That is something very important to the people of the Gaeltacht who are on the edge of this country.”

Mr McHugh, who has responsibility for Irish and the Gaeltacht areas, insisted however that much progress had been made in the implementation of the strategy in the past six years.

His department had received specific additional funding of €1.25 million and “we are at a stage where the implementation of language plans will soon commence at community level in the Gaeltacht”.

He said €850,000 was being provided to support Údarás na Gaeltachta and Foras na Gaeilge and this funding would help the Udarás to support the implementation of plans in up to 13 Gaeltacht language-planning areas.

He said Foras na Gaeilge had received €115,000 to advance language plans in Galway city, Letterkenny and to advance the process for Cork, Tralee and Dungarvan.

He was confident that the broad range of schemes, policies, programmes and initiatives being funded by the State will show progress “in the period ahead”.