All state departments will participate in a major celebration marking the 125th anniversary of the start of the Irish language revival movement next year, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.
Speaking in Irish at Government Buildings in Dublin on Wednesday where he launched the first tranche of events in the Bliain na Gaeilge 2018 programme, Mr Varadkar said he hoped people with all levels of Irish would participate.
A committee including representatives from the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Conradh na Gaeilge, Foras na Gaeilge and Údarás na Gaeltachta has been formed to oversee the year-long programme.
Events will be organised around five key themes - the revival of the language over the last 125 years; the creativity of the language; the vibrancy of the language; the participation of the community and the value of the Gaeltacht.
The Taoiseach, who was recently awarded a Certificate in Professional Irish after completing a course for public sector employees, said his appreciation of the place the language has in Ireland’s heritage had prompted him to relearn it.
“I want to enjoy the language and at the same time, make an effort to speak it” he said.
Mr Varadkar said he had discussed the programme with Minister for State with responsibility for Gaeilge, Gaeltacht and the Islands Joe McHugh and had supported his proposal to extend the programme to Government departments.
“I am happy to announce that the Cabinet agreed at a meeting last week that all State departments will participate in this special year,” Mr Varadkar said.
Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh gave a guarded welcome to the initiative.
“The Government launched an ambitious strategy for education in the Gaeltacht recently but the resources have not been allocated,” he said.
“Bliain na Gaeilge is a good initiative that gives a national and international platform to the language but while the Government says it is prioritising the language we are not seeing it in the budgets.
One of the long-standing complaints held by the Irish speaking community is the failure by the State to provide access to services through Irish.
“We are not seeing it in Government where there are huge difficulties when it comes to dealing with the State through Irish. The Coimisinéir Teanga has highlighted the lack of Irish in the system. We are awaiting the arrival of the new Languages Act, we are hoping to see an increase in the proportion of civil servants with Irish. The best thing the Government could do in terms of Bliain na Gaeilge is to correct some of these things. It is a great opportunity. Instead of talking about it, do it a Thaoisigh!” he said.
Minister McHugh, who himself recently relearned Irish, said “I think there’s a very strong message here acknowleding that there is a lot of good work going on with the Irish language that sometimes doesn’t get out.
“There are schools doing great work, there are communities doing great work, then there are groups such as Conradh(na Gaeilge), Foras na Gaeilge, Údarás and Muintearas. They are working away on a daily basis.
“Okay, the figures will point to the language being under pressure but I think we are entering a very good phase. There are people willing to promote the language, they are willing to take a chance on the language and to go back and relearn it.
“They are getting rid of the old shackles and the fear of making a mistake.”
Mr McHugh said the involvement of the Taoiseach was significant.
“To give it the stamp that it needs we needed the rialtas (Government), we needed the Taoiseach we needed the all-party inclusivity on it. We’ve got that, and, with the Taoiseach being here today and giving not only his personal but also the Government’s acknowledgement, it can only be a good thing.”
Bláthnaid Ní Chofaigh, one of three Bliain na Gaeilge ambassadors, said the connection between Ireland’s minority languages was “much bigger” than otherwise understood.
“Not one type of person or one tribe owns the language,” she said.
"I would love to visit a direct provision centre and talk about the language, I would like to connect with the Travelling community who also speak their own language, I would love to speak with the Romanian community and other communities in Ireland to come and talk to them if they woyuld have me about the language. We have more in commonthan we realise."
The programme of events can be viewed at gaeilge2018.ie