Majority of new Spiddal apartments held for Irish speakers
Only Irish speakers will be permitted to buy or rent a percentage of new apartments in the Connemara village of Spiddal, following a historic legal agreement brokered by Galway County Council.
Purchasers of 18 of the 29 apartments in a €10 million development in Spiddal will have to meet Government criteria on Gaeltacht housing grants and may also have to undergo a 30-minute interview to measure their fluency "as Gaeilge". The remaining 11 apartments will be open to all buyers.
The agreement is the first of its type under provisions of the Galway County development plan to protect the linguistic and cultural heritage of the State's largest and most populated Gaeltacht area.
Under the plan, developers in the Connemara Gaeltacht have to enter a legal agreement with the local authority which ensures any approved development "for the exclusive use of occupants who have an appropriate competence/fluency in the Irish language".
The condition was first applied to a development in Carraroe last year, and subsequently to applications for new developments in Spiddal and Barna. However, completion of the Spiddal apartment scheme represents the first time it has been put to the test.
Ironically, it was a threat of legal action by Comdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge which forced the local authority to implement its own language competence provision, following a report by Nuacht TG4 that work on the 29 apartments had begun without any legal agreement on the language clause.
The local authority issued the builder with a warning, but the apartments were placed on the market and advertised in English.
No mention was made of any Irish language provision in the advertising.
A community organisation, Coiste Glór na nGael an Spidéil, stated that if the language clause was not implemented it would dilute the strength of Irish in Spiddal and jeopardise its Gaeltacht status. Some 84 per cent of Spiddal's population is Irish-speaking, with 68 per cent using it daily, according to the 2002 Census, but this represents a drop on the 1996 Census.
Late last week, a legal agreement was concluded between Galway County Council and the development's owner, Mr John Foye. A copy of the agreement obtained by Nuacht TG4 states that purchasers and occupiers of 18 of the apartments must meet the criteria set by the Department of the Gaeltacht for the "deontais tithe" or housing grant.
Tenants will also have to comply with the ruling, which will be monitored by the local authority. The condition remains in force for a 10-year period.
The agreement has been hailed as "historic" by Ms Máire Ní Neachtain of Coiste Glór na nGael an Spidéil. "We are very pleased, but we wonder how the percentage of apartments was worked out, given that the initial agreement should have been for 'exclusive' Irish use," she said. The group would be seeking a meeting with the local authority to clarify this and other aspects of the agreement.
The deal was also given a qualified welcome by Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology maths lecturer and Irish language activist, Mr Donncha Ó hÉallaithe, who charted a further decline in Irish language use in Gaeltacht areas in a study of 2002 Census information. Mr Ó hÉallaithe said that he was disappointed that the percentage of apartments to which the language clause applies is lower than the proportion of Irish speakers in Spiddal.