‘An entire generation of young people from the Gaeltacht cannot buy a house nor a site in their own area’

Demonstrators gather at Leinster House to highlight the housing crisis in Gaeltacht areas

Members of Gaeltacht community groups, language activists and students gathered outside the Dáil on Wednesday to highlight the impact housing insecurity is having on the Irish language in Gaeltacht communities.

Organised by Meitheal Náisiúnta Pleanála Teanga and supported by Conradh na Gaeilge, Irish language pressure group An Dream Dearg and the Union of Students in Ireland, protesters criticised what they described as repeated delays and a lack of progress from the Department of Housing and from the Government in tackling the housing crisis.

“The Gaeltacht housing crisis is undoubtedly one of the most significant threats facing the Gaeltacht communities in recent history,” said Róisín Ní Chinnéide, spokeswoman for Meitheal Náisiúnta Pleanála Teanga.

“An entire generation of young people from the Gaeltacht cannot buy a house nor a site in their own area. Long-term rental properties are incredibly scarce, and there is also huge difficulty obtaining planning permission in Gaeltacht areas,” she said.


Wednesday’s protest was timed to coincide with discussions on amendments to the Planning and Development Bill 2023, legislation that Ms Ní Chinnéide said will have “huge implications” for the viability of the Gaeltacht and for the Irish language.

“This Bill is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make a positive, practical impact on the protection and promotion of Irish as the community language in the Gaeltacht. We are working to ensure that the appropriate amendments are made to it to do just that,” she said.

“The Gaeltacht must be central to those discussions, and our language rights must be respected in this Bill.”

The 2016 Census recorded a fall of 11 per cent in the number of daily Irish language speakers in the Gaeltacht in just five years, while the latest figures from the 2022 Census demonstrated another fall of 1.6 per cent from 2016. Protesters attribute some of this decline to the shortage of available housing in Gaeltacht areas, the purchase of holiday homes and the low provision of social or affordable housing.

“There are no houses available to rent, all the houses are up on Airbnb, there are very few houses available to buy and when they are available to buy, they are extremely expensive and people who are from the Gaeltacht just don’t have the means to buy them,” said Aoife Ní Chonghaile from Na Doireadha in the Connemara Gaeltacht.

“A lot [of the houses] are being bought by people from outside the Gaeltacht, and they only come around once a year to live there. They are being used as holiday homes and for the rest of the year they are left empty. It’s heartbreaking to see,” said Ní Chonghaile, who is an Irish language planning officer and chair of Gaeltacht action group Bánú.

Donncha Ó hÉalaithe, a language activist from the Cois Fharraige Gaeltacht, said there is a danger that Irish will be “snuffed out” unless protections are included in the planning system.

“We don’t have much time left. The clock is ticking. It is very important that the people who have the power to do something about this start acting and using these powers,” he said.

He said the Gaeltacht development agency Údarás na Gaeltachta, which recently announced a pilot scheme to develop housing, should also consider other measures.

“It is important that Údarás na Gaeltachta uses the land they have and consider buying new land so that they can provide serviced sites with planning permission for Irish speakers who want to stay in their own communities,” he said.

“At the moment young people from the Gaeltacht who want to settle down and rear families are being pushed out from Irish-speaking areas into English-speaking areas and that effectively means that the seed for the next generation is being lost.”

In a statement the Department of Housing said: “The planning system in Ireland recognises the importance of the continued daily use of the Irish language, especially in Gaeltacht areas. Gaeltacht Planning Guidelines are currently being finalised and will be published for public consultation which will allow for submissions to be made.”

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Éanna Ó Caollaí

Éanna Ó Caollaí

Iriseoir agus Eagarthóir Gaeilge An Irish Times. Éanna Ó Caollaí is The Irish Times' Irish Language Editor, editor of The Irish Times Student Hub, and Education Supplements editor.