Gaeltacht Bill to trigger status change


SOME TRADITIONAL Gaeltacht areas could lose their status under new legislation published yesterday.

The Gaeltacht Bill (2012) redesignates current Gaeltachtaí in seven counties as 19 new “Gaeltacht language planning areas” that must draw up and implement a language plan if they are to keep their status as strongholds of native Irish speakers.

Minister of State for Gaeltacht Affairs Dinny McGinley said the Bill was only the second Gaeltacht Bill to be introduced since 1956. He said it was “time for action” and that the Government was looking to Gaeltacht communities to draw up their own strategies for the future; it was up to them to take possession of their plans. The Government was not throwing anyone out of the Gaeltacht; they would offer any assistance they could but there would be “implications if they were not willing to be constructive”.

It was “essential that the Gaeltacht is based on linguistics” and not on a geographical area. He wanted any Gaeltacht region to be a “true reflection of what was there”.

The Bill also introduces new concepts in an attempt to promote language usage in the Gaeltacht and outside it. Certain towns can be designated “Gaeltacht service towns” that could provide support for Gaeltacht areas, and urban districts can become “Irish language networks”, areas outside the Gaeltacht where the language is widely used among the community. Mr McGinley said the language was a natural part of many children’s lives in towns and cities and parents wanted their children taught in Irish and have after-school activities in the language. He wanted to harness that “good will” in these networks.

The head of Gael Linn, Antoine Ó Coileáin, said the Bill was “a most significant piece of legislation”. Gael Linn is an organisation that runs courses for children and adults in the Gaeltacht and outside it.

“While successive governments have espoused the concept of promoting Irish, we have never had a . . . rigorous planning model to bring this about,” he said. “The absence of linguistic criteria allowed for plenty of wriggle room as to the actual position of the language. Thankfully, the new Bill recognises the current precarious position of the Gaeltacht and proposes that language planning criteria will in future determine what constitutes a Gaeltacht.”

The Bill also ends elections to the board of the development agency Údarás na Gaeltachta. Instead of 20 board members, there will now be 12 – five of whom will be nominated by local authorities with Gaeltachtaí in their jurisdiction and seven of whom will be appointed by the Government.

Former Fianna Fáil minister Éamon Ó Cuív said the Bill marked the end of a “democratic” Údarás na Gaeltachta.

Kevin De Barra, acting head of Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge, an Irish-language umbrella group, gave the Bill a cautious welcome, saying it had many “sensible amendments”. However, his organisation was also concerned that the new appointments procedure to the board of Údarás na Gaeltachta would give the public “little input”.