The Minister and the language

Tue, Jul 22, 2014, 02:00

A chara, – Aidan Doyle, in his rather downbeat article “Irish language is not a part of us – it must be learned” (July 19th), is quite wrong in implying that because the Irish language is not derived from our DNA that it somehow lacks authenticity in our lives. Everything that gives us distinctiveness as a community – our sense of ourselves in the world, our understanding of history, our literature, art, music dance, games and, of course, our languages – is learned. Some of this is learned informally from our family, some is learned at school and some by osmosis through our daily involvements in social life.

What Dr Doyle’s article doesn’t acknowledge is that much progress has been made in making these learning processes more effective since the early faltering steps to establish Irish educationally in the early 1900s. Thanks to the gaelscoil movement, for example, we have now a growing number of our young citizens who are used to communicating with each other in Irish and who frequently do. Much has been achieved; there is, of course still more to do.

Finally, Dr Doyle’s sniffily pedantic dismissal of the slogan “Níos deirge, níos feirge” misses the point. It is clearly ungrammatical, but no Irish speaker will fail to understand the point it is making and its cheeky incorrectness will probably make it more memorable. – Bua is beannacht,



Bóthar Dhún an Chreagáin,


A chara, – Both Stephen Collins and Aidan Doyle have missed the point in their “analysis” on the Irish language (Opinion & Analysis, 19ú Iúil). “Preserving” the language is of little interest to those of us who live through Irish and “taking a long hard look at Article 8” (journalistic speak for watering it down it) will only widen the chasm between State policy and linguistic rights.

With the huge growth of Irish speakers (outside of Gaeltacht areas) and the introduction of the Official Languages Act since 2003 the Irish State has repeatedly stalled at the crossroads. Instead of moving backwards, let us go forward by embracing Irish speakers in our dealings with the State. Why not change our recruitment policies (when embargoes are lifted) and begin recruiting say one fluent Irish speaker out of every three at customer service grades “agus le beart de réir briathair tabharfar na cearta céanna don nGaeilgeoir is don mBéarlóir”. Rather than looking at Article 8, maybe the new Minister of State for Gaeltacht Affairs could take a long hard look at our recruitment policy. – Is mise,


Baile an Fheirtéaraigh,

Trá Lí,

Co Ciarraí

A Chara, – Michael Collins told Piaras Béaslaí in 1918: “If we get safely through this business, I intend to give up everything else and retire to an Irish-speaking district, and stay there until I have a complete mastery of Irish. I don’t think it will take me long.”

Those who claim to be his greatest admirers show little inclination to emulate their hero. Enda Kenny has a poor record in Gaeltacht affairs. While in opposition, he appointed Michael Ring and Frank Feighan as Gaeltacht spokepersons, neither of whom spoke Irish. He expects the unfortunate Joe Mc Hugh to master Irish after a few weeks in the Naoinain Mhóra (High Babies) of Gleann Columcille. It is not acceptable.

An Taoiseach should request Dinny Mc Ginley to continue as Aire na Gaeltachta until such time as Joe Mc Hugh convinces a nominated group of native speakers of Irish that he is able to converse normally with them and run his department with ease and competence through the medium of Irish. He can then have pride in his portfolio, and urge us as much as he likes to join him in his personal journey. – Beir beannacht,



Bothar Bhinn Eadair,

Baile Atha Cliath 5

Sir, – No one is seriously suggesting that the Minister of Health should be a doctor, the Minister for Agriculture a vet and so forth (Brendan O’Donnell, July 19th). Advanced oral and literacy skills, however, are without question a necessary minimum requirement for all government Ministers.

The Minister charged with Gaeltacht Affairs is in charge of a bilingual portfolio and should therefore be highly competent in both Irish and English. Fluency in conversational Irish will be of limited benefit to one charged with drafting, reading and reviewing complex language-policy documents. To expect any individual to acquaint himself with a new ministerial portfolio and to simultaneously acquire advanced reading, writing and oral language proficiency skills, is not only unrealistic but also grossly unfair on the individual concerned.

Those who have been most critical of this ministerial appointment on linguistic grounds are those most keenly aware of the mammoth linguistic task being asked of the new junior Minister. They are not, as Leo Roche suggests (July 19th), “a minority group” happily oblivious to the difficulties faced by language-learners. – Yours, etc,


Palmyra Park,

Galway City

Sir, – The furore about the appointment of a Minister for the Gaeltacht who is not fluent in Irish is entirely consistent with the inability of Oireachtas members to conduct all business in our first official language. It reflects the reality of the way business is conducted in both the Seanad and Dáil, with translators permanently on hand in case a cúpla focal are used (another great example of our hypocrisy) .

Fluency in spoken and written Irish is not a requirement for our Oireachtas, yet it is imposed by that very body for public service appointments. On the bright side , I expect that the Minister(s) will have an allowance to cover the cost of the courses and the course providers will get some business. I wonder how much money is paid by us to fund Irish language courses for those in all public, State or semi-State jobs? – Yours, etc,



Co Cork